Monthly Archives: May 2022

Ask the Questions


“What does that mean?” My kids have asked me that question numerous times over the years. Usually, the question revolves around some reference to my childhood. Like, “why do you say you’re going to tape a show instead of record it?” I had to explain that back in the days of VCRs, the cassettes actually had tape inside them. Or when I fell back on my Arkansas upbringing and said, “cheese dip.” With their Texan sensibilities and looks of dismay, they asked “why did you call queso cheese dip?” And in response to me asking them, “whatcha talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” when I didn’t understand what they were telling me, they asked what in the world I meant. They were unfamiliar with 1980’s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” and Arnold’s catchphrase to his brother Willis. 

My daughter Riley was at counselor training at the camp she’s attended since she was 8 years old. While she was familiar with the camp lingo, she noticed that the newly hired counselors who hadn’t grown up there didn’t understand the phrases. She told me about a situation in which one of the upper-level counselors used a lot of camp lingo in one sentence, and a new counselor said, “I have no idea what you just said.” 

Sometimes we use jargon out of habit or nostalgia. Sometimes we develop a shorthand from immersion in a profession or world that requires or promotes the use of certain terms or acronyms. But sometimes, when we use a particular vernacular, we end up excluding people, whether inadvertently or purposefully. 

Even church communities fall into the use of “Christianese,” which may feel particularly cliquish to those who have not grown up in church settings. This problem is not new. In the days of the early Christian church, an angel of the Lord led the disciple Philip to approach an Ethiopian man who served as an important official for the queen of Ethiopia as he traveled from Jerusalem.  “Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31). Their discussion led to the Ethiopian man’s baptism. When we use specialized terms or refer to the past or shared stories, whether in church or elsewhere, we must consider others who may not understand and therefore feel left out. We would do well to include others in the conversation and offer to explain. 

But blessed be the ones who ask the questions. Who are willing to be vulnerable and admit they don’t understand; who risk being ridiculed for admitting they need clarification; who don’t take things for granted or at face value; who challenge the status quo; who demand that people explain their words. 

We can create open environments that encourage people to ask questions. Those questions could lead to new understandings and amazing results.  Let us try to explain ourselves when we fall into the trap of repeatedly using lingo and also celebrate those who ask, “what does that mean?” 

Language Matters


I cringed when I saw the “Dead End” sign while my nine-year old son Alex and I were driving to a get-together. When Alex spotted the sign, he said, “what does THAT mean?” I explained that the street was like the cul de sac we live on, but these days the signs usually say, “No Outlet.” We agreed that “dead end” sounded ominous and negative. Both terms described the same thing but the images and feelings they conjured were completely different. 

Alex had taught me a lesson about labeling the week before. He explained to his siblings that he’d graduated from the dyslexia program at school. For two years, he had worked with a  dyslexia teacher for 45 minutes every day with remarkable results. He told them he wouldn’t be pulled out of class anymore, but said, “I’ll still get the perks.” Alex referred to the accommodations that he receives as part of his individual education plan, like getting extra time on a test if he needs it. Some people might take a negative view of his dyslexia, but Alex knows that his hard work paid off and he benefits from the “perks” that help him.  

Language can make a difference. Social scientist Brene Brown said, “we have compelling research that shows that language does more than just communicate emotion, it can actually shape what we’re feeling.” (Atlas of the Heart). In other words, the way we talk about how we feel may help dictate what we experience, not merely describe what we experience. And that goes for the way we talk about ourselves too. If we call ourselves negative names – loser, failure, lazy, stupid – we will believe that those names accurately define us. But God doesn’t see us that way.

In the Bible, God changed the names of several people. In Genesis, we see two examples. Abram and his wife Sarai were old and childless. But in an encounter with God, “Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.’” (Genesis 17:3-5). God wanted Abraham to believe even though the promise seemed impossible. Abraham didn’t always follow God’s directions and ended up in some difficult circumstances, but God fulfilled his covenant. 

On another occasion, Jacob was on his way to meet his brother Esau whom he’d cheated years earlier. The night before the meeting, Jacob felt anxious and went off by himself until a “man” appeared and wrestled with him. When the man demanded Jacob let go, Jacob demanded a blessing. Jacob ended up with a hip injury and a different name. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’” (Genesis 32:28). Israel would need the reminder that he was an overcomer throughout the ups and downs of his life. 

In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciple Simon said that he believed Jesus was the Messiah when Jesus asked who he thought Jesus was. “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’” (Matt. 16:17-18). Even though Peter would eventually deny Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus continued to make Peter the foundation of God’s church.

God didn’t change who these men were but simply relabeled them. They still made plenty of mistakes afterward, but God gave them names that they could live into. Their new monikers were reminders of how God saw them and what God wanted for them.

God calls us his beloved children. When we resort to degrading orr destructive labels, we deny who God says we are and hurt ourselves in the process. God aspires for us to believe in his love and in ourselves. Let us choose labels and language that build people up. We are God’s people, made in God’s image, and God proclaims that we are “very good.” (Genesis 1:26-31).

The Church

Recital 2022

When we moved to Frisco, Texas in the fall of 2006, our daughter Riley was almost three years old, and our son Jed was nine months. Our sons Clay and Alex hadn’t been born yet. I was a bit heartbroken when we left St. Louis despite our great opportunities in DFW. The people at First Presbyterian of St. Louis nurtured and cared for us as a young married couple. They’d nicknamed my pregnant belly “Smiley” even before they knew we intended to name her Riley. She was baptized there, attended Session meetings as a tiny infant with Ben and I, and yelled out “DaDa” when Ben assisted with the liturgy during worship. 

So, when we moved to Frisco, we started attending Faithbridge Presbyterian immediately. We needed to become a part of a new community. We’d been at Faithbridge for only a few months when the fire alarm sounded loudly in the middle of Sunday morning worship. One of the nursery teachers ran into the sanctuary to assure the congregation that there was no emergency. A child had pulled the fire alarm. When we went back to pick up our children after service, we said, “it wasn’t one of ours that pulled the alarm, was it?” The nursery caregiver informed us that actually it was our kid. Riley had always been tall, and the fire alarm was low on the wall, so she’d given it a try. And that was how we made ourselves at home with our new church family. A family that has embraced and loved us for over fifteen years now. This Sunday, Faithbridge will honor the high school seniors, and this year Riley will be included. In a beautiful tradition, the quilters from our congregation will present each senior with a hand-made quilt as a symbol of support and love. But before they do, I want to express my gratitude for our church.

The people of Faithbridge who’ve taught my kids in Sunday School, on Wednesday nights, at VBS, and on various other occasions explained the Bible stories certainly, but they also poured their compassion, kindness, and creativity into my children. My kids have never doubted that they belong at our church because they’ve always been accepted. They’ve learned about social justice from the pulpit, the classes, and how our church serves others. They know it’s good and appropriate to question, and even challenge, notions about spirituality and religion. They know their voices matter. Over the years, numerous church members have come to Riley’s dance recitals. They didn’t have to, but they did it to show their support for her. My kids experience God’s love from the way the people in this church embrace them, figuratively and literally.   

But most importantly, my kids have learned what it means to be in a caring church community. They know that the people in this church will always be in their corner and always have their backs. The church will miss Riley when she’s at college, help support us as we adjust to life with her away at school, and gladly welcome her when she returns home. The people of this church have demonstrated what it means to be the body of Christ in ways too numerous to count. 

I pray that my children hold onto the feelings that come from being fully involved in a church community and hope they find the same type of church in their adulthood. We’ve been blessed to find two churches who loved our family well and for that I will be eternally grateful. The people of Faithbridge will celebrate my daughter this Sunday, and I celebrate them for being the epitome of the loving church that God calls us to be. 

Be Thou My Vision


When I was a teenager and my mom entered her 40s, we both experienced changes in our vision. I could no longer read the board in school without straining or asking a friend, and mom couldn’t read words close up. Before I finally got glasses and mom purchased readers, we had an interesting and somewhat comical time trying to share a hymnal at church. We would laugh as she held the book out as far as her arms would reach to see the lyrics, and I tried to pull her arm back toward us so that I could read them. 

In the Christian Ethics class that I’m currently taking, we’ve learned about liberation and social justice ethics. As such, I’ve been thinking about how we view the world. My mom and I couldn’t see the same thing from the same perspective because of our physical limitations. But many times, our viewpoints come from the way we approach situations. Some people see the big picture. They think about how an organization can be its best or make progress. The organizations can vary in type and form, from our families and workplaces to our churches and communities. The high concept planners use their imaginations and experience to cast a vision for the how the group can improve and thrive in the present and the future.

Other folks focus on the details. They’re on the ground, in the trenches, dealing with the daily grind. They know how the system works in reality versus theory. They may not focus on developing a long-term, all-encompassing vision for the entire organization. Instead, they are determined to put an effective plan into action. 

Both ways of looking at things have value and are necessary to the successful operation of any organization. And both are essential when examining and challenging the status quo. But so often, we don’t take the time or make the effort to take into consideration the viewpoint that differs from ours. We need those who have the foresight to see all the group can be, and we need to listen to the people doing the work to find out if the vision can be accomplished in ways that are productive and authentically fulfill the mission of the organization. Especially in our churches and in our organizations whose goals are to help others, we must have vision, but we must be attentive to those we intend to help – what they say they need and how they need it. 

God cares about the big picture and the daily minutia. When we are searching for purpose for ourselves or our groups, we can pray for God’s guidance. When we are trying to implement good practices, we can invite God into the process. We can also accept God’s support through trusted friends and advisors. The Psalmist said, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:3). The God who made the universe (the biggest of big pictures) also cares about us individually to the point that he doesn’t want us to slip or doubt that he is always ready to help us.  

Let us make every effort to consider both viewpoints – the broad and the narrow – so that we make our groups and ourselves strong and healthy. And always remember that God will help us discern both the vision and the best ways to put the vision into action.