Respecting the Dead… (Please Just Shut Up for a Moment)

I am surprised at what will trigger a memory. Often the memory that is jarred from the recesses of your mind seems to have little connection with whatever has caused it to surface. Yesterday’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando seems like the farthest thing from the memory it brought back for me.

In the early nineties I was a volunteer firefighter while attending college. The events of this past weekend caused one of the hardest memories of that time to surface. It was a sunny Saturday in May and the tones rang out calling us to service. The report was for a rollover accident and it seemed almost impossible to fathom how such an accident could occur on the reported stretch of road. I made my way to the station, geared up and jumped on our rescue to head to the scene. The first engine radioed that the reports were true and that there were victims entrapped.   The scene was a very short code 3 response from the station and we were there in moments. The scene that greeted me was one that filled me with a deep sense of foreboding. The Jeep Cherokee had driven by me many times that day with teen girls hanging out of the windows and honking their horns. It was part of a tradition based around a dance competition held at the high school. A few years earlier my friends had done the same thing.

As is the case when a first responder is on a scene, it’s all business. You put on your game face and get the job done. The only problem was that it quickly became clear that there was not a job to be done. Two teenage girls (one of whom was a classmate’s sister) were crushed to death in an instant. A moment of teenage celebration quickly turned to tragedy. Once the reality set in that the situation was no longer a rescue but a accident investigation things shifted.

You might think that this memory was brought to mind because of the loss of life, or the sight of blue lights flashing behind a news reporter, but it wasn’t. This memory came to the front of my mind because of how people have been responding to this act of terror.

The work of rescue became a time of waiting. We tried to give the victims dignity but in many ways that was lost. In an era before social media and even cellphones word still spread fast. A large crowd of teens and parents had gathered at the scene. It wasn’t long until the crowd was a mix of tears and condemnation. It was more than the question why, but in an instant conversation turned into blame. The girls, school, parents, police all became subjects of people’s criticism and anger. This was not hours, days or weeks later; it was while we still had dead daughters and friends waiting to be taken to the local funeral home. I remember while I stood holding a tarp up around the body of one girl, thinking to myself why did her parents let her do this. There was plenty of blame to go around and lots of folks on the scene were trying to place it. (Read a NY Times article from 1994) Yet in an instant the need to place blame and solve the problems that led to the accident took a back seat. As a 20 year old college student I was asked to move behind the tarp and to hold the body of this young girl in a way that a police officer could take necessary pictures. In that moment I realized that victims need time. This young girl didn’t go out expecting for this to happen. Her parents set her on a course of life and hoped that all would be well. Here with her lifeless body in my hands and looking at her sweet, innocent face I was reminded that there is always time to place blame. There is always time for anger. There is always time to make changes but there is only one sacred time in a person’s life when we can honor them with a spiritual respect that puts a hold on judgment to show love.

In the days, weeks, months and years that followed that event many people called for change and education. The next time the competition rolled around there was a clear outlawing of reckless behavior. There was also a somber pall over the event for many years.

Again, I’m sure your wondering what this has to do with a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. I feel a responsibility to be a voice for a peaceful spirit in times like this. I am ashamed by social media posts, news reports and political pundit statements that instantly make times like this into an opportunity to jump onto their soapbox. There is a great deal of action that must be taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.   Situations like this should help to shine a spotlight on issues and policies that allow or even cause this to happen. They should force us to tackle hard issues and make changes. Yet, timing is everything.

Within minutes of the news from Orlando making it to national news outlets the religious and political commentary began. While families were searching for their children and cellphones rang next to victims in the club, many were taking it as an opportunity to politicize. Religious groups quickly make it about God’s wrath or to perpetuate misinterpretations of Islam. Anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration voices quickly took their positions. LGBTQ advocates, gun control law proponents seized that opportunity to make their points.

Perhaps it is a natural response to want to do something, but much is lost in all of that talk. The pain, suffering and anguish of families, friends and a community are turned into tools to advance a cause. This is why I was transported back to that day so long ago. Too often blame and guilt leads us to dehumanize victims. As I held that teen girls lifeless body I was reminded of my own need to keep my humanity. She wasn’t just a girl who died doing something careless. She was a child of God who needed to be honored with her full humanity. The victims of the Orlando shooting deserve a time of mourning and memorial before we turn them into tools to bludgeon each other with in political or religious debates. Again, don’t misunderstand me, their deaths must lead to vigorous debate that leads to appropriate changes in our systems so that such things never happen again. Still, we need to pay them proper respect. I don’t believe that turning their deaths into statements, post or memes that tear down one another within hours of their death shows them respect or honor. These innocent victims may very well become faces of a movement that helps prevent things like this in the future.   I just wish we gave them a moment to rest in peace before that time.


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“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” or Miss Frizzle as spiritual guide

MagicSchoolBus-620x323Recently, I was in a group of church leaders, Pastors and Elders, as we discussed how to make congregations more vital. Every time I am in this type of gathering, I am both saddened as well has filled with hope.

My sadness comes from the fact that so many of our bothers and sisters in Christ are struggling to continue their congregational ministry. Churches throughout our denomination, as well as many others, have seen a decline in their daily participation. It can be hard to see a vital future when the news of the day is continually telling us that we are “dying.”

I believe that one of the greatest obstacles facing the Church is that it is so focused on the past. Even people who weren’t involved in the church in the past have a grand impression of the church’s past. Christian cultural dominance of the past has led to what is viewed as a high water mark of the church. We are bound to that past like a stone around our neck. It drags us down and under. This is what truly saddens me. Good, faithful, loving Christians, who see what they are doing as being lesser because it doesn’t look, like the past.

One thing that I have come to value about the coach approach to leadership and life is that while the past can be informative, we must focus on future reality. We all remember when Churchill used the phrase, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It is true; we need to learn both the positives and negatives of the past. Congregationally the stories we carry forward tell us a lot about who we are. The problem is that we often allow those stories to determine who we will be. As people of an ancient sacred story, we value our past, without it we actually don’t have a common calling. Continue reading

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Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes (Originally Posted 2-2013)

Today, I wanted to repost this article on Ash Wednesday from 2013.  Join us tonight for our supper and service at 6:30 PM

   Ash-Wednesday-for-web-2014 I don’t know if many know that I am a cradle Presbyterian. That means I was born a Presbyterian and for the most part have always worshiped as a Presbyterian. Beyond that I was raised in a Presbyterian Church that was influenced by a Dutch Reformed mindset. As such we were less than liturgical. The only liturgical traditions I remember were Maundy Thursday and Advent. I don’t recall growing up with any traditions around Ash Wednesday and Lent in general. That’s not to say they weren’t present, I just don’t recall them being very important in the life of the congregation.
     Continue reading

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Three Things I Learned During The Blizzard of 2016



This past week we had a historic storm that blanked the Washington Metro area with deep snow, which crippled our area. Here are three things I learned during this storm:


  1. You eat an elephant one bite at a time– During this storm I was fortunate to have the use of a snow blower to clear the snow. While that may sound like a great thing it didn’t make the work easy. It is tempting to wait for the storm to end and then tackle the clearing. Resisting that temptation I can testify that it was so much easier to venture out in the storm for a short time to clear smaller accumulation. This of course doesn’t just apply to snow. Often we find ourselves in a place where the job seems too big. Even in the storms of life if we take it on in small ways we can make progress.
  1. People are not accustomed to accepting help– After I cleared my own drive and walk I ventured out to help many of my neighbors. I don’t say this to make myself sound like a nice guy. Rather, I was struck by the fact that most folks looked at my act of neighborly kindness with an economic understanding. That understanding was expressed by some offering me cash.  The more interesting part was how folks felt like they owed me something. I wasn’t going to do this work to gain an IOU. Even the “Pay it forward” understanding stands in the way of accepting a gift graciously. Apply this to the message of the Gospel. Thankfulness is our best response.
  1. There is noting like a common challenge to unite people- I am blessed to live in a neighborhood that has a fairly strong sense of community. Even with that underlying ethos I was impressed by how many people were working to help each other. It was also refreshing to see folks out in the streets talking. Many folks may not have spoken in a long while. Yet here in the aftermath of a storm community was being embodied.
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Church Assessment Tool and Visioning Update

In October of 2015 our congregation participated in the Church Assessment Tool (CAT) survey.  We had 88 percent of our worship attendance complete the tool.  This is a strong response and has provided us with a valuable and accurate snapshot of our congregation.  On behalf of the Session I would like to thank each of you who took the time to complete the CAT online or via paper copy.

In November the leadership of our congregation made up of the Session and Diaconate met with two “Interpreters” from the presbytery who were trained to help congregations understand the information gathered by the CAT.  This was a great time of confirmation, discovery and challenge.  Following the interpretation the leadership group was asked to spend some time considering the information.

Due to the Advent and Christmas seasons we were forced to put off our first follow up meeting until January 6.  This meeting was intended to provide those who were unable to attend the interpretation with a “mini-interpretation” and to give everyone else an opportunity to once again familiarize themselves with the results.   I’m proud to report that all but one Deacon currently serving was present at this meeting. Over the course of two hours we immersed ourselves in the CAT and had some discussion about the results.  The CAT provides a great wealth of information and the first step for our congregation is to determine what the most important items are.

At the conclusion of the Leadership meeting each person was left with the challenge of personally reviewing the information and identifying what they believe are critical insights.  At our Session and Diaconate meetings next week, we will discuss the places that we believe we need to pay close attention to.  To that end I would also like to invite everyone from the congregation to help the leadership in the process of interpretation.  What is it that you the congregation would like to learn from the CAT?

Our next phase in the CAT process is helping the congregation understand what has been learned from the assessment.  As promised we are continuing to ensure our visioning and goal setting process as a priority.  The leadership of Christ Presbyterian Church is committed to making sure that this doesn’t become just another exercise we complete and put on a shelf.  Please continue to pray for the Spirits leading in our congregation as we look towards the vital future we know God has planned for Christ Presbyterian Church.

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Beyond Resolutions… Set SMART Goals

This is a cross posted article with 

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. It seems right to think of a new year as a new opportunity to make oneself better. “A new year, A new you,” is one of those catchy ways to sum up our newfound hope that comes with a fresh calendar year.

Even still, most of us also make those resolutions with little to no expectation that we will achieve them. It is easy to throw out standard resolutions that make us feel like we have turned over a new leaf. Herein lies the problem; making generic “commitments” to change are not very helpful.

This is a great place for us to apply the SMART goal setting. You may employ this practice in your work life. Many corporate organizations use the SMART model throughout their planning. SMART is an acronym that highlights what a goal should be all about.

smart goal setting conceptS- Specific: Goals should state exactly what you want to accomplish. Use the old who, what, when, where, and why questions to help whittle down a grand idea into a more precise goal.

M- Measurable: It is critical to decide how you will determine success. What will you use to gauge your movement towards achieving your goal?

A- Attainable: Goals should challenge you to move beyond your current state but not be so out of reach that you set yourself up for failure. Be willing to push yourself, but also be realistic.

R- Relevant: Check to make sure that the goal you are setting is in line with your “big picture.” It is easy to set up competing goals that inevitably mean that neither goal is achieved. Does this new goal fit into your overall objectives?

T- Time Bound: Setting a schedule for your goals helps you to move forward. An open-ended time limit allows you to push it back for an indeterminate amount of time. Finite time limits encourage action. It is also good to set waypoints along the way to see how much daily, monthly or quarterly progress is being made.

It is not enough to just say you are going to do something. The adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” is attributed to Ben Franklin. We often think that setting a goal is planning. An end point (goal) is not a plan it is a dream. To achieve dreams it is critical that we set ourselves up with SMART goals that encourage us to actually accomplish what we are dreaming about. I know that dream is a big word. After all we don’t necessarily think that higher sales numbers or a little less weight as a dream. Yet, without an actionable plan that is all our goals will be, far off dreams.

As a coach it is my role to encourage and help coachees take their dreams and begin a process of formulating SMART goals to achieve them. Do you feel like you have a bold vision for what could be, but don’t know how to get there? A coach is a valuable resource to help you sort through all of the competing claims on your time and energy and to help set a plan to achieve the dreams you have for your life.

If you want a partner in your SMART goal setting and are looking for a coach, please contact me at  A new year, a new you can be more than just a trite phrase. It can be your future.

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Advent 2- Peace on Earth

The rattling of sabers is loud.  The fear and danger are real.  The warring madness of God’s creation is palpable.  While in the sanctuary, God’s people are lighting candles and speaking bold words about the promised peace that comes in Christ.
Are the words of our worship simple and empty platitudes or do they have deep meaning and power in our lives?  Sadly, I believe that the former is too often the truth.  Like saying God has a plan to someone who has just lost a child, peace talk in the midst of war or threat of war seem like hollow words.
In recent years I have had Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells” ringing in my ear long past the Christmas Season.  His words from 1863 have been used as lyrics to the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”  In particular the struggle between the bells that ring “Peace on earth, Good will to men” while “hate is real and mock the song.”  I, like Longfellow, find my “head bowed in despair.”  Even as my faith points me to the hope of peace on earth I can’t help but to be struck by the sorrow and pain that surrounds us. 
Longfellow wrote this poem following the death of his wife and his own severe wounding in a fire.  Along with these tragedies his son was also severely wounded during a Civil War battle.  These personal struggles led Longfellow to have a deep crisis of faith wondering if God was even present in this calamitous world.
Rather than writing a poem that professes the death of faith, he writes a modern psalm of hope in the promise of God.  The hope of the Gospel is that despite the overwhelming darkness of the world around us, the light of Christ shines through. I wonder how it is that Longfellow was able to find this hope even in his dire situation.
In the end it is the fact that in despair, in times of war, hatred and even when it seems that God is dead, the bells of Christmas ring.  For our age this is still the timeless truth.  Today, most churches don’t have physical bells in a tower and even if they do they are kept silent.  In our day the bells that ring are the lives we live.  We are the bright sounding bells in a world of despair.  That is what it means to be the body of Christ. (Sorry about the metaphor shift) To live the Christian faith in times of terror and fear means that we not only have to personally find the strength of our trust in the Prince of Peace, we also need to allow that strength to resound from our lives. 
“Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men”
I pray that in your life you might find the sounds of the bells of peace are louder than the sabers that rattle. 

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20151201_115627-1Every year as Advent begins, I feel like I must come up with a compelling reason to encourage those around me to become part of the Advent disciplines. For over sixteen year’s I have written newsletter articles, blog post and sermons advocating for a deeper connection to the religious reality of the season. I suppose that for some, these encouragements may have had an effect. I have a suspicion that for most of us the external pressures put upon us trump any well-intended messages.

I have to admit that this is at times a bit frustrating. As the world spins up the commercial Christmas machine I feel like I need to be an advocate for the true message of the birth of the Messiah. Yet, I know that my words are like a grain of sand on a barren desert of Christmas sales and parties.

Yeah Lord ADVENTEach year, along with Barbara Stefan our Music Director, we make a conscious effort to put our own well being at risk by keeping Christmas Carols out of Advent. Yes, there are people who think that Pastors and Music Directors who don’t let Carols be sung before Christmas should be fired. I have been asked, “why don’t you just make folks happy and sing carols before Christmas.” Trust me, it would be easier, but not very helpful. If we simply jump into Christmas how do we connect to the expectation that all creation should have? How do we prepare the way of the Lord if we move directly to the Manger?

For some this is just a theological chess match. I would contend that it isn’t a game. How we worship guides how we live. In a world that is filled with a distorted view of Christmas and overwhelming despair, the themes of Advent are critical for our spiritual health. Finding meaning in the hope, peace, joy and love of God is critical for our very soul. When we purposefully slow down and resist the negative and consumer messages, we reset our spiritual mindset.

This week we are immersed in the Hope of Advent. Recent experiences and events in the world certainly have made highlighting Hope apropos. We are constantly in a state of needing to revive our hope. Current political discourse, terrorist activity, racial division and scores of other issues have undermined our hope. Part of this is due to the fact that we have sought to find our hope in the wrong places. Much of today’s news shows us clearly that our systems and structures have failed to provide what they often promise. Safety, security, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are continually being challenged. This is due to the fact that we have placed our hope in broken human beings and social order. The hope we find knocking at the door during Advent is from an eternal source.

During worship this week I tired to highlight with the children, the fact that our hope in Christ comes from the fact that we have seen the promises of God continually kept. We hope in Christ because throughout time when God has made promises to the people, God has come through on them. It is incumbent upon us to take this time of Advent to reconnect our trust in the “hesed” or steadfast love of God. This is the foundation of our hope. Even when the world and its promises fail, God’s hesed is everlasting. The prophet Isaiah speaks boldly about the reality of the hope we can have in God’s love and promise when he proclaims:

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

  • How does the Advent season prepare you for embracing the Messiah?
  • Where do you find your hope?
  • How do you experience the “hesed” or steadfast love of God in your life?
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First Fruits Stewardship- Guest Blogger- Sue Ferguson

2015 Stew Graphic

Today I have asked Sue Ferguson to be my guest blogger.  This past Sunday during worship she shared the story of Christ Presbyterian’s First Fruits stewardship with regards to our mission work in Guatemala. I hope that our congregations faith in God’s provisions might inspire you to take your first or further steps towards a First Fruits Stewardship practice.  


Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your crops;  then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.  (Proverbs 3)

  During this time in the life of our congregation, when we reflect on our blessings and think about how we might, as our focus verse indicates, “honor the Lord with your wealth”, it might be useful to provide an example of what this verse looks like in action.   We are not often blessed to see such immediate and fulfilling results from our giving, but we have a story of our own of how God took what we gave and multiplied it beyond our greatest expectations.  

While in Guatemala this summer, the mission team received a certificate of appreciation. It was not appreciation for labor or time.  It was for the finances CPC has provided, as a congregation, to help build the four school rooms that are now in full use and serving the community in ways never imagined.  Over the course of two years, pledge dollars have provided $10,000 in funding.  In addition, motivated by the generosity of the congregation, each year the mission team set goals to match or exceed the funds provided from the pledges, through personal fund raising, family, friends and additional support from the CPC community.  We accomplished this to the total of over $25,000 raised toward the building of the school. 

It was the direct pledged-giving that helped make that happen.  This congregation used its first fruits – you pledged, and session approved without knowing what might result, to devote a significant portion of church resources toward the effort in Guatemala.  And now, we are seeing first hand how the barns are filled and the vats overflowing.  The best part of this story is it is still being written.  As a result of pledge dollars, a village was empowered to seek out other ways to get funding.  As a result of having experienced the generosity of strangers making their village a priority, giving first fruits, they dug even deeper into what they had.  The example of generosity has yielded fruits well beyond the bricks and mortar. God worked to multiply the inspiration from that initial individual pledge of faith to bring transformation.

Our stewardship emphasis asks us to honor God with our first fruits.  As a church body, CPC did just that.  Members pledged with faith that the dollars would be used for God’s glory, even if the specific were not decided yet.  The session allocated mission funding based not on what we already knew, but on our call to honor God with our first fruits and a trust that He would provide.  As a result, there are four bustling classrooms in a village that is experiencing transformation.  And it all began with pledged dollars.

As we approach Commitment Sunday, think about how you can affirm your relationship with God by honoring Him with your first fruits. We have our very own example of how our barns will be filled and our vats overflowing when we making giving our best and FIRST a priority.  That does not mean it is easy, and in fact it might make you uncomfortable. If you have not pledged before, perhaps it is time to make that first step.  Regardless of the amount, it is a bold step in faith to make that commitment.  Be prayerful about your decision, even if you have been pledging for years. We need to approach our personal giving as our own church has – by devoting our first fruits for the hopes of what can be.  

You can never experience what could be, if you only give to maintain what already is.

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Holy Cow! Congregation Assessment Tool

September 27th – October 18th

In the next few days you will receive a letter inviting you to participate in our mission/visioning and goal setting activities at Christ Presbyterian Church.  As I introduced a few weeks ago, the first step in this process is a “survey” of our whole congregation.  Rather than inviting an expert in to assess our congregation we are using the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT) provided by Holy Cow consulting.  This tool allows you, our congregation, to be the expert on our life together. 
The CAT allows members and friends to provide a snapshot of our congregation.  From your answers given in the tool, a trained interpreter will help us highlight where our congregation has great strength and energy.  One of the things I like about the CAT and Holy Cow’s philosophy is that they are a “strengths-based model.”  Meaning that it helps us identify and build on our strengths as a means for spiritual and numerical growth.  Many other approaches to assessment are based on a failure focus. 
The CAT is also a “benchmarked” instrument designed to provide an in-depth look at the experiences, perceptions and aspirations of a church’s congregation.1  This means that we are not only given a view of our congregation but how we compare to churches like us.  After all, we aren’t the only one’s seeking to be the church to our community in a new a vital way. 
The CAT will help us:

  • Measure the level of satisfaction and energy in the church.

  • Identify the critical success factors for improving organizational climate.

  • Discover where members would like to go in the future.

  • Gauge readiness for change.

  • Uncover potential resources we may be missing.1

In the coming weeks, I will explore each of these areas to help everyone understand why this assessment is useful as we discern God’s will for us in the future.
Right now, I want to impress upon you how important it is that you participate in our assessment.  Christ Presbyterian Church is blessed with a great diversity and we need a wide representation of that diversity in our assessment.  We will be asking everyone who worships with us to complete the tool.  This includes those who are members and non-members.  Also, anyone who has worshiped, participated in a ministry or contributed financially over the past year are needed.  The deeper the pool, the wider our insights will be. 
Also, please insure that you have signed up for our weekly email with a working address. While we will have paper copies available we need to reserve that for folks who don’t have access to the web-based tool. 


1 Taken from Holy Cow’s website:  “”

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