Guns and Kayaks

I am my dad’s son.

But given my reaction to my 16th birthday present you might have questioned that. I was a very active teenager spending as much time outdoors as I could—tennis, cycling, skiing, hiking, soccer and swimming. When it came time for my 16th birthday, quite honestly, I was hoping for some expensive ski equipment for my special day. My birthday is in October and new skis or boots would have been the perfect gift just in front of the Thanksgiving opening day on the slopes.

Hunting rifleWhen it came time to receive my gift my dad took me downstairs, opened up a small closet and proudly pulled out a Swiss Army rifle. My eyes must have become like silver dollars. This was a monumental gift from my dad. It was his blessing upon me indicating that I had come of age. My father was bestowing upon me the sign and symbol of a boy who had transitioned into manhood—a high-powered rifle suited for big game such as deer, elk and bear.

It clearly caught me by surprise because I stammered through some form of an incoherent and insincere thanks. It wasn’t just that I really wanted something else and I was disappointed. No. The damn thing scared me! It was then that I knew that my dad’s hopes for me and my hopes for myself were going different directions. His intentions were pure gold. But it felt like I had received a lump of coal.

And yet, I have to say again I am my dad’s son.

Growing up, many a weekend was spent up in the Colorado Rockies fishing, hiking and camping. I was born in Bozeman, Montana near Yellowstone Park and later raised right at the foot of the magnificent Rocky Mountains. Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved highway in the world, was just a quick morning jaunt away. Three times I road my bike over the 12,183-foot pass. I was raised as a mountain boy.

On my 16th birthday, my dad got me right and wrong. He knew me well enough to know that supporting my love affair with nature was just right. But he didn’t know me well enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a perfect replica of him.

Brian KayakingToday, I am still my dad’s son. I am as much of a nature boy as I always have been. It’s just that I traded in fishing, hunting, and camping for cycling, snowshoeing and kayaking. Despite my dad’s early hopes for me, today he takes pride (and some credit) in my outdoor ambitions.

At our Strategic Planning Team meeting last week one of our astute members shared the image of her understanding of good parents as we were reflecting on the future of the church. She reminded us that healthy parenting is not about making sure that our children become exact replicas of us, but that we bestow upon them our most cherished values and then release them to the world to live those values out in their own way.

The comment came as we were wrestling with the increasing demand upon the presbytery to help our churches successfully negotiate the cultural shifts of our communities. We know the form of our churches has to change. Her comment was a reminder that the healthiest churches instill their values in their membership and then release those same members to live those values out in their own unique ways.

Brian BikingI thought about the lesson from my family. My dad instilled in me a love for nature teaching me to fish for Rainbow trout, camping next to mountain lakes, and guiding me toward hunting for big game in the forests. I do almost none of that now. But my love of nature is still written into my DNA. Not a week goes by without taking a walk by a river, cycling on a mountain trail, snowshoeing through a forest, or kayaking in a wildlife refuge.

Sometimes we make the mistake of confusing form for content. We assume that Christian values can only be lived out in church membership, singing in a choir, volunteering at the food pantry, pledging a percentage of income to the church, serving as an elder or deacon, making coffee, trimming trees on church property, and running the sound system on Sunday.

At our best we instill in our memberships the value of compassion, a love of neighbor, a commitment to divine grace and justice, a deep itch for truth-telling, and a devotion to healing self and others. Maybe our members will become exact replicas of our church culture. But if we are lucky they will take those Christian values and live them out in their own unique ways. If we are lucky they won’t abandon the church, but instead become our legacy.

I am my dad’s son. Different in so many ways; yet, essentially the same.

That is how legacy works.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

It Only Takes a Spark…

This is a story about First Presbyterian Church, Cottage Grove. But, honestly the players involved in this story had become so big and numerous that First Presbyterian almost got lost in the narrative.

Tuesday I made my way down from Portland to Cottage Grove, a small idyllic town less than a half hour south of Eugene. Cottage Grove first got on my radar when I discovered the 16-mile Row River Bike Trail that originates in the town and crosses three covered bridges on the way to Dorena Lake. It’s a lovely ride if you ever want to gather a few pedaling Presbyterians for a Saturday outing.

Cottage Grove 4I was in Cottage Grove for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Cottage Grove Village, a one-acre tiny house development on a quiet neighborhood street on the south side of town. I arrived to the scene of thirteen recently constructed tiny houses and over a hundred people gathered around for speeches, a BBQ and a ribbon cutting.

As I looked at the brochure for the event I expected to see the name of First Presbyterian Church highlighted somewhere prominently between the beautiful pictures of homes and residents. Instead, I found the names of some thirty community partners including various foundations, government entities, corporate names and the organizational umbrella of Square One Villages. But the name of the church was not to be found.

Cottage Grove 3That omission, whether intentional or not, really tells the story of First Presbyterian Church. In fact, except for a few short days or maybe a couple of weeks they never owned this story; they were just the divine spark that ignited the energy and passion of city and county dreamers, doers and developers. Don’t get me wrong. They didn’t light the match and then walk away. No, they lit the match and then kept fanning the flames until the project is what it is today.

The truth is that by the time this project reached ribbon cutting stage there were major partners involved including the Meyer Memorial Trust, the $100,000 gift from the Presbyterian Women, Lane County, AARP, Banner Bank, Ford Family Foundation and more than two dozen other large benefactors and supporters.

What First Presbyterian Church understands and got right is that a mission of this magnitude has to catch fire beyond the local congregation if it’s going to be successful. What they got right from the very beginning was that they communicated to the community that “we are better together.” They invited the community to dream with them and plan with them.

Cottage Grove 1From the spark of an idea with their Earth and Social Justice Committee they ignited the passions of a community that wanted to make a visible impact on the housing crisis in their community. What started out as an idea to have a forum to UNDERSTAND the issues eventually morphed into a project to SOLVE the issues. It would not have happened without the initiative of First, Cottage Grove and it would not have happened without the investment of the community. “We are better together” was their motto.

I know this congregation well enough to know that this was not some new discovery for them. It has long been in the DNA of this congregation to be the initiators for community development. They don’t need to develop trust for community projects. They crossed the trust threshold decades ago. Their community sees them as barrier breakers and depends on them to step in to mend the social fabric of the community.

During our last presbytery meeting, I closed my comments from the Strategic Planning Team with the lyrics to the first verse of one of our favorite hymns:

Called as partners in Christ’s service,

Called to ministries of grace,

We respond with deep commitment

Fresh new lines of faith to trace.

May we learn the art of sharing,

Side by side and friend with friend,

Equal partners in our caring

To fulfil God’s chosen end.

That hymn clearly plays in the hearts of First Church members.

Cottage Grove 2Today, called as partners in Christ service, the Cottage Grove Village has given thirteen vulnerable residents an opportunity to develop some permanency and to restore their dignity. What started out as a single conversation sparked a community-wide development where people feel a sense of belonging again. In the words of new resident, Asslin, “I had lost the ability to have hope. That is what this place gave me. It has given me a new family of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles who are just as crazy as I am. I absolutely love it.” The world needs a little more of her kind of craziness.

“It only takes a spark…”

Then watch out!

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

“God’s Got This!”

HuggingAfter the long haul of avoiding personal contact over the last year, I was treated this past weekend to some rich engagement with one of my long-time good friends. I met my friend nearly thirty years ago when we both were serving churches in a small rural town in Northern California. We both were young ministers in only our second calls—me a Presbyterian, he a Methodist.

Over the past three decades, we have followed each other’s vocational and personal paths. Both of us experienced divorce and stepped in for each other to navigate the chaotic waters of a broken dream. He went on to complete a PhD in clinical psychology; I eventually moved into this executive position.

changeOver the weekend, we caught up with each other, shared stories about our families, compared notes on what it is like to be single and in the ministry, and talked about how much ministry has changed in the nearly thirty years since we met. I listened as he shared his plans on how to help his church shift toward small group ministry focused on spiritual care and growth and less on worship. He listened as I talked about my desire to lead our presbytery through a process of transformation with a more missional focus.

As he listened, I was going on about all the changes that have occurred in our presbytery and the sobering projections of what we saw on the horizon. I was sharing the potential vision that was emerging as we anticipated churches putting in place their legacies. He heard my hopes that we would  re-direct our resources to affordable housing, a Coastal Camino, house churches, new pastoral configurations and an institute to study Christian spirituality, among other emerging possibilities.

But I also shared how overwhelming all this was and the sense of responsibility I feel most mornings when I wake up. He was picking up on my anxiety as he listened. Finally, when he noticed a moment of vulnerability and openness in me, he stopped me, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Brian, God’s got this!”

He was picking up that not only did I have hopes for the presbytery, but that I also felt like I was personally responsible to MAKE those hopes turn into reality. He was picking up on the fact that I was talking as if the future was completely dependent on my ambition, perseverance, and dogged determination. He was wondering if this presbytery executive friend had also made room for God.

“God’s got this!” he interjected with a knowing smile.

I needed to hear it. I needed to be reminded that my role is not to make something happen, but to be faithful to the process and allow God to do what God does best—that is, transform challenges into opportunities and death into life.

Lifting weightsI write this to you because I have picked up on the same anxiety in many of our congregations. So many of the conversations I am having with church leadership reveal this belief that the future of the church is completely dependent on what we do, how hard we work, and how strategically smart we are. I can hear it in your voices just like my friend heard it in mine, “This is completely up to us!” We feel overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility and the weightiness of the issues.

I thought about the conversation with my friend. Both of us were expressing the need to make dramatic shifts in our church systems. But he didn’t feel personally responsible for the eventual outcome, whereas I seemed to express that the outcome would be a sign of my personal success or failure. Quite honestly, it reveals a certain level of ego and arrogance to tie the future of the church to what we personally do or do not do.

With those three quick words, “God’s got this,” my friend reminded me that we don’t play God. The eventual outcome on the future of the church is up to God. Faithfulness is up to us.

Let us do what can. Let us love one another. Let us act with an eye toward justice, kindness and humility.

Then, let us allow God to be God.

“God’s got this.”

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

One More Thing…

First things first. For any of you who read my last blog “Goodbye, for now…”

NO, I AM NOT LEAVING MY POSITION!

shiftI am sorry that my blog left some confusion about that. I am not leaving my position; I am only experiencing a shift in my writing. Up to this point, I have been what I call, “teasing out a vision” in my Holy Breadcrumbs blog. Somewhere in the next few months, I anticipate that a new blog will emerge along the lines of “living into a vision” as the presbytery makes decisions and commits to a specific mission and vision.

After announcing that the Holy Breadcrumbs blog would go quiet for a few months, I had a couple of revelations. One, I don’t think it will be helpful for the presbytery for the blog to go completely quiet. I am guiding us through a transformational process that is as much an emotional shift as it is a structural shift.

One of the things that I realized is that there will still be times when I feel like something needs to be said. We will continue to be transformed in this time and Holy Breadcrumbs is often where I have named those subtle shifts that are taking place within our souls and our congregations. I still want to make sure that I don’t miss important transformational thresholds.

PlantingThe second thing I realized is that I can’t feel obligated to publish a blogpost every week. I now am focusing on strategic planning, structural changes, and presbytery-wide initiatives. I spent the first three years of this position trying to loosen up the soil of the presbytery for new initiatives. Now it is time to do the weeding, the planting, and the growing of our soon-to-be chosen crop (mission/vision). Now it is time to shift from what might be possible to what is actually doable. It is clear that I now need to tip the needle from imagination to implementation.

You can expect Holy Breadcrumbs to show up in the Cascades Connections periodically, but the timing will be based not on a certain day of the week, but on when the Holy Spirit gets under my skin and agitates me until I start tickling the keys again.

Again, sorry to those of you who thought I was backing out of my position! Just the opposite is true. As each week passes, I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into this transformative moment in the presbytery. I am not shifting away from something, but shifting more deeply into it.

Trust me. I am committed to this wild theological, ecclesiastical, Jesus-following, mission-loving ride that we are on.

Hang on, folks!

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Goodbye, for now…

I started hinting at this blog post last January when I mentioned in a former blog post that the image of Holy Breadcrumbs may have served its purpose. I began writing under this title in January of 2018 as I became convinced that a new vision for the presbytery was not going to come from a handful of bright, creative visionaries sitting around a boardroom table. I felt strongly that in the current context of ongoing change and uncertainty that a vision was going to have to be teased out.

pathwayRather than having one comprehensive vision out ahead of us, I felt that we would have to arrive at our vision “one holy breadcrumb at a time.” I come with experience in pilgrimages and one of the great lessons from the pilgrim life is one learns to trust the path right in front of our feet without the certainty of knowing where one might get their next meal or lay their head at night.

But today I need to say goodbye, at least for now.

It is now clear that the period of teasing out a vision and loosening the ecclesiastical soil of the presbytery has run its course. It is time now for strategy and planning. It is time to move from a plethora of possibilities to a commitment to specific plans. It is time to turn potential dreams into budget line items.

I will continue to communicate with the presbytery as we move through this time. But I imagine that my communications will fall more in the category of updates, progress reports, as well as attempts at making meaning of our emerging life together.

Woodburn 1I do know that I will continue to write even as my particular voice will shift. All of my pastoral work prior to taking this position was as a solo pastor. The weekly rhythm of scriptural reflection, sermon writing and preaching is in my bones. When I first accepted this position one of the members of the church where I was serving was thrilled for me but also said, “This doesn’t mean you will quit preaching, does it? I can’t imagine you not preaching.” I told him that I would find a way somehow to keep my weekly practice alive. My weekly Holy Breadcrumbs served that purpose.

I enjoy the writing and many of you say you look forward to it weekly. So, I imagine that I will come back at some point under a new title and with a more appropriate theme. Maybe the need will be to share stories of where God is showing up as we step into a new vision. Maybe the need will be to continue to look at the world through the lens of faith and spiritual eyes. Maybe the need will be to continue to provide a hopeful word as the church loses one kind of life on the path to living into a new kind of life.

As with all things pilgrimage-related, however, the landscape changes. Needs shift. The path goes another direction. One thing disappears; another emerges.

So, goodbye, for now.

I’ll see you around the next corner.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Lightening the Load

I am on vacation right now. This is a re-post from last fall. The topic still seemed timely.

Hwy 50The date: August 26, 2011.

I was 145 miles into the Loneliest Road in America—Highway 50 that crosses the Nevada desert from east to west. I still had 352 miles of cycling to go. I woke up in Ely, Nevada to my usual routine of getting a full breakfast of orange juice, coffee, eggs, bacon, and a pile of pancakes. I was prepared for the next leg of the journey. But I was worried. After two days of cycling in the desert with fifty pounds of gear after seven weeks and 2,500 miles behind me, I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to push my body and my soul across the desert in 102 degree heat. The ride had become more brutal work than adventurous fun.

I finished my breakfast, went back to my motel room and, rather than pull my gear together, got out the map. “Could I finish the last 1,500 miles without the use of camping gear? Could I send my sleeping bag, pad, tent and cooking gear home, lighten my load, and make the trip much more enjoyable?”

DesertIt was a risk. Once I emerged from the desert there were enough towns where I felt confident that there would be motels, fellow cyclists, kind Presbyterians and friends to rely on for nightly shelter. The risk was the desert. With services only every 65-90 miles the lighter load would make it easier to bridge those difficult distances. On the other hand, if I didn’t make it I would have no gear to rely on if I found myself forced to bed down for the night with no bedding. The thought of spending the night on the sand as the desert turned cold was frightening at best.

It was one of the best decisions of the trip. As the cycling became more daunting it wasn’t pushing harder and digging deeper that saved me; it was lightening my load.

Bike on hwy 50The image of that day keeps coming back to me as I ponder how to negotiate my way through the overwhelming series of events of recent months. I feel like I am crossing a metaphorical desert once again. That same feeling of realizing that just pushing harder isn’t going to be the answer that eventually saves me. I don’t think I can dig deeper. It’s not about being able to carry a heavier load but being willing to give myself grace and lighten the load.

And lightening my load is what I am trying to do. My body and soul are refusing to take more on, work longer and later, cram more into my day, and attempt to get to the other side of this by sheer will, grit and determination. Rather, I am attempting to lighten my load, let go of that which is not essential, and trust that what does not get done apparently wasn’t important in the first place.

It’s time for more grace and less push.

rummage salePhyllis Tickle reminded us in The Great Emergence that the church seems to goes through a massive ecclesiastical rummage sale every 500 years. Many of us have been consulting and preaching that theme for years encouraging churches and judicatories to let go of that which has outlived its usefulness. Like old shoes and outdated outfits the church every few centuries needs to do a major closet cleaning.

It feels to me that we have moved from the rummage sale that we SHOULD do to the rummage sale that we MUST do. It’s no longer one possible option among many, but an essential act that our ecclesiastical lives may depend on. If we do not lighten our loads, we run the risk of being crushed by the weight of and the barrage of competing crises.

ASUS 4 282On August 26, 2011 (I remember the exact day!) I faced a choice in the Nevada desert—either continue to pound my body and soul into the ground as I attempted to cross the desert with fifty pounds of gear or lighten my load and make the adventure fun again.

The next morning, twenty pounds of gear lighter, I nearly danced across the desert. I was having fun again.

  • What weight are you carrying that you need to let go of now?
  • What responsibilities now feel optional and are better reserved for another time?
  • What physical possessions support your emotional and spiritual health? Which ones are weighing you down and holding you back?
  • What do you need to do in order to dance through this time?

Lighten the load.

Let’s find a way to dance across this wilderness.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

A Sneaky Holy Spirit

future of faithIt was ten years ago that I read Harvey Cox’s book “The Future of Faith,” where he attempts to capture what he calls three different ages of Christendom. I remember when I read it and felt like little lights started going off in my brain. He describes what he believes are three epochal ages of the Church from the Age of Faith, a 400-year period right after the time of Jesus, the Age of Belief, a 1500-year period extending into the 20th century and now what he loosely calls the Age of Spirit.

He writes that this third age is still in formation and seeking definition, but that there are distinct features that are emerging that mark this as a separate and new age. Of primary importance is the lessening of the import of what people believe in in favor of three emerging trends—how people live, how they treat one another, and how they experience the divine through spiritual practices and ritual.

This is really important.

Protest JesusThis was especially on display in 2020 as many Christians felt that they had more in common with their secular sisters and brothers than they did with fellow Christians. Christians on the right and the left didn’t recognize each other while people at various protests both right and left felt an affinity for each other even if they didn’t share the belief in the same God.

Pentecost is this Sunday when we celebrate the narrative of the Holy Spirit sweeping the early Christians off their feet and into a movement to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the whole world. While not everyone may recognize this high holy day in the Christian calendar, the experience of Pentecost seems to be taking root in our time.

This seems to be Holy Spirit time. People are learning to partner with each other not because they share a common language or a similar belief, but because they, as Harvey Cox might say it, share common values about “how we live, treat one another and experience the divine.”

doveI firmly believe that the God presence is alive and well in our communities. I believe that Jesus is still stirring up people for extravagant love, radical peace and divine justice. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is showing up in non-profits, civic organizations, and community networks.

I think Harvey Cox might be right that this is the Age of the Spirit. Pentecost is our daily reality.

Just don’t be surprised if Pentecost doesn’t come with a Christian label.

The Holy Spirit can be sneaky that way.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

The Other 53%

It is a strange phenomenon that when I am in the church I feel like I am in the minority and, when I am engaged in the larger community, I feel like I am part of the majority.

broken heartI am speaking, of course, to my marital status. I remember nearly thirty years ago when one of my colleagues was going through a divorce while he was serving a church. It was touch and go. In the end, he retained his position and the congregation slowly adjusted to his new reality. But, it forced the congregation to ask, “Can a minister adequately counsel couples and with integrity perform wedding ceremonies if he himself could not successfully maintain a marriage?”

We have come a long ways since then. That was nearly three decades ago. But while there is more acceptance for the divorced among us I don’t believe that our ecclesiastical culture has fully come to terms with the normalcy of divorced, separated, single and widowed persons among us (the exception, of course, being widowed, as it is the one “no fault” category).

Men kissingIf the question then was about this pastor’s ability to counsel couples and perform weddings that same question today could be, “Can a married pastor adequately speak to and address the needs of unmarried people?”

  • What does a married pastor say to the 42 year-old recently divorced person who comes in with “how to date” questions?
  • How does a married pastor counsel a person who is discerning whether to end a long-term romantic relationship?
  • Can a married pastor adequately counsel the single person on sexual intimacy and boundaries?
  • Can a pastor in a heterosexual marriage understand the world of the unmarried same sex couple?

I think the answer is often yes, but the shift in questions exposes how much the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.

I titled this blog post, “The Other 53%” as a reference to the Pacific Northwest statistic that reports that a full 53% of adults are in one of these four unmarried categories—single, separated, divorced and widowed. In other words, people like me are actually in the public majority and yet when I step into my church culture I suddenly feel like I have to accept my place in a private minority.

church weddingOf course, this is not surprising. The structure of the ministry of the church was set up at a time when 67% of adults were married (1960). These structures were established around what we consider “the normal stages of human development”—childhood, education, adulthood, vocation, marriage, children, retirement and eventually death. We have rituals to celebrate these stages and transitions—baptism, confirmation, graduations, weddings and funerals. Our rituals reinforce the normalcy of marriage and children.

All of this is well and good—at least for that group that represents the 47% of our communities who fit this mold. But our current rituals do little to help unmarried people navigate the world of dating, divorce, sexual expression and shifting relational networks.

I have nothing against married people. They are some of the nicest people I know. I just wish the church recognized the 53% of us who are not married as equals.

Maybe we should become a voting bloc!

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

Good Grief

fishThere is a story about two young fish who are swimming along when an older fish swims by, nods at them, and asks, “How’s the water, youngsters?” The two young fish swim on and then one fish finally turns to the other fish and asks, “What the hell is water?”

The point is that we are often too close to our own context to see the reality that is all around us.

From 2000 until 2007, I worked as a bereavement coordinator for a hospice outfit and taught grief theory to potential foster parents. When I returned to pastoral ministry I suddenly became aware of how much organizational grief is the water we swim in in the church. It permeates almost everything we do.

Of course, it’s not the only reality of our ecclesiastical existence. We also swim in the currents of divine yearning, intimate connection, grace and gratitude, and a deep existential trust. But when I returned to pastoral ministry after years of working with clients experiencing grief I found that organizational grief showed up in most Session meetings, planning retreats, and parking lot conversations.

On Death and DyingGrief is a normal process that a body or organization experiences in response to loss. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first noticed and named stages of grief in her book “On Death and Dying.” The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While my experience is that grief rarely moves from one stage to another cleanly, the categories are helpful, nonetheless, as a guide for understanding how a person moves from paralyzing loss to a vital and rich life again.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) peaked in terms of membership in 1967. That means that for the last 54 years our experience of church has been within the context of ongoing loss. In other words, whether we acknowledge it or not, that is just the water that we swim in.

Cliff JumpingEventually, with regard to loss, the goal is move through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression to the glorious and life-giving stage of acceptance. But it is not easy. The temptation is always to try to return to the former glory days, whatever that might mean for you. We humans are unbelievably crafty and creative and we will go to nearly heroic lengths to avoid the fourth stage, depression, or “dark night of the soul.” I have seen dozens of churches near the point of acceptance only to retreat to “just one more attempt” to bargain their way out of loss.

Many years ago, I created an easy-to-use handout for church leaders to help them see where their churches might be on the stages of grief. Each of the quotes are typical things you might hear in a congregation as it contends with loss. This might be a good exercise for your church leadership to engage in. If you want deeper work in this area, let me know, and I will be glad to work with your leadership on seeing how grief may be keeping your congregation from stepping fully into gospel life again.

Stages of Organizational Grief in Churches

Snapshots

By Rev. Brian Heron

@2014

 

Denial  (pretending the elephant isn’t in the room)

  • “The lack of young families is not surprising.  People tend to come back to church in their retirement years as they become more reflective about life.”
  • “The Church goes through these cycles and always seems to bounce back.”
  • “I don’t believe the statistics.  I know some churches that are growing.”

Anger (blaming someone for letting the elephant into the room)

  • “Young people just aren’t very responsible these days.”
  • “We haven’t had very good pastors for quite some time.”
  • “When did God take a back seat to soccer games and Sunday papers?”
  • “I can’t believe the Presbytery hasn’t given us more resources.”

Bargaining (negotiating to get the elephant out of the room)

  • “If we can get a young, good-looking pastor with a family we’ll start growing again.”
  • “If we started doing more praise music like the mega-churches we would attract more people.”
  • “If the pastor just visited more and preached better we would see pledges go up.”

Depression (realizing that the elephant is not going to move)

  • “Things aren’t looking very good.  We don’t know what to do.”
  • “If things keep going like this we won’t be here in five years.”
  • “I don’t know where the church went.”

Acceptance (setting a place at the table for the elephant)

  •  “We are going to remain faithful for as long as we are here.”
  • “We may not survive, but we can at least leave a legacy in our community and in the presbytery.”
  • “We need to rethink and re-imagine church.”
  • “We need to pass the baton of our Christian mission to a new community of people.”

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

 

Tag. You’re it.

It started sometime in January of this year.

My hands wouldn’t allow me to lift my razor to my neck and chin. I don’t mean that I suddenly came down with a debilitating disability or that my shirt was too tight to raise my arms. I mean some unconscious psychological force was impairing me from following through on the morning ritual of shaving.

Presbyterian Brian
Pre-Pandemic Presbyterian Brian

For most of my adulthood I shaved and kept my beard well-trimmed because I liked the look. I thought it looked sharp. Women told me I was handsome. It looked professional and yet softened my face from the harsher clean-cut look that over-emphasized my large nose.

But in recent years I noticed a pattern emerging. I never shaved on Saturdays unless I had a memorial to officiate, a fundraising dinner to support or a new hot date to impress. Increasingly, I noticed that I was letting my stubble grow for one or two days even during the week before deciding, “I really need to clean up.”

Then 2020 happened.

Something changed. Something shifted.

Bearded Brian
Post-Pandemic Presbyterian Brian

The whole exposure of this past year to the unconscious biases and racism of our culture began working on me. And it showed up in the morning in front of a steamy bathroom mirror. If twenty years ago I was shaving because I liked the look, in recent years, I realized that I was shaving to look “presentable.”

But presentable to who? My family doesn’t care. In fact, my kids tease me about when I am going to shake it up a little and “drop that same old conservative look,” in their words. The community where I just bought a house doesn’t care. In fact, many of the men here have long, scruffy, and bushy beards. There is a ruggedness to them that comes from hours of daily physical labor out in the rain and sun.

I realized that who I was trying to be presentable for was associated with my profession—“I can’t show up in the pulpit without having shaved!” “I can’t speak in front of City Council looking scruffy and embarrassing my church or presbytery!” “I can’t visit a patient at the hospital and send the message that they weren’t important enough to clean up and dress up.”

Before my mind knew what was happening to me my hands were already querying me, “Who are you trying to impress and look presentable for?” 2020 changed me.

RazorOver the months, I have begun to wonder if this is how unconscious biases and racism find their way into our individual and collective psyches. It seems like such an innocent thing—whether to shave or not shave. What’s the big deal? But how much have I and all of us been conditioned to believe that to look clean cut and presentable is the holy and right thing to do? “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” may not be too much of an exaggeration.

But my questions went further. How much of my life over the years has been to reinforce a white, professional, upper middle class lifestyle? How much have I compromised on my own unique personality in order to look the part and play a role? How much have I contributed to the unconscious and subtle boundaries that tell us all who is in and who is out?

tattooed womanThe act of shaving increasingly carried a weight to it this year that I hadn’t expected. It suddenly occurred to me that if I wasn’t willing to take the risk to look a little different then how the hell was I going to accept the tattooed Millenial, the man transitioning to a woman, the West African immigrant, the developmentally less-abled, the recently released rough-looking prisoner, the tattered homeless person, the outspoken feminist, the burka-wearing Muslim, the Spanish-speaking home health aide, the construction worker with colorful language, the cowboy boot-wearing, tobacco chewing rancher, the second-hand store clad single mother, the skeptical agnostic, the always angry, locally-known SOB, the long-haired musician, the proselytizing evangelical, the mothball-smelling grandmother, the PTSD-impaired Vietnam veteran, the food stamp-dependent father, the feather-wearing, earring-dangling free spirit, and the BLM t-shirt-wearing protester.

The events of this past year are changing and transforming me—both inside and out.

I feel different. I look different.

How have they been changing and transforming you?

Tag. You’re it.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades