Friday, December 13, 2013

No, Megyn Kelly, Jesus and Santa Weren't White

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few days ago, conservative talk show host Megyn Kelly claimed on her Fox News show that "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white...just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change, you know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too...that's a verifiable fact, I just want kids to know that."

This statement was in response to a Slate piece by Aisha Harris entitled, "Santa Should Not Be a White Man Anymore", wherein she notes her confusion between seeing a black Santa figurine in her home while white Santas were popularized elsewhere at the mall and her school. Because the real history of St. Nicholas is so far removed from his present iteration as Santa Claus, she argues that it would be easier and less culturally problematic to change him into a penguin. This avoids questions of race and culture and makes him accessible to all. While I see her point about wanting to avoid cultural problems, it might be a good idea to confront the underlying issue of racism in America rather than continue to ignore it.

On that note, I would like to confront the factually incorrect statements made by Kelly in response to Harris.

Image pulled from "Image Foundry Studios"
1) "Santa just is white." -- First, Santa isn't real. So, I'm assuming she's talking about the person upon which his legend is based, St. Nicolas.  According to The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, St. Nicholas was born in the fourth century and became the bishop of Myra. Myra is located in present day Turkey. Supposedly, he provided three different girls each with a sack of gold to serve as dowries and rescue them from a life of prostitution. Over time, the legend grew and meshed with Norse legends. Immigrants brought these legends to North America, and the modern Santa Claus was pretty much manufactured by Norman Rockwell, Coca Cola, and other manufacturers of goods that wanted to ramp up Christmas sales.

So what did the the ancient Turkish gift-giver look like? A composite, made from forensic anthropologists who reconstructed his skeleton from his crypt in Bari, Italy, shows that he looked very much like modern day Turkish men. I think we can agree that he doesn't look like a typical white American male, though that categorical racial box is very problematic and fraught with ambiguity. It might be more accurate to say that he would not experience the privileges of being a white male in American society.

2) "Jesus was a white man, too." -- Wrong again. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew in first century Nazareth. This was a poor village in the shadow of the large city of Sepphoris. He, his father and his brothers, while stylized as artistic carpenters in the Christmas story, are actually more akin to day laborers who would have walked miles everyday to find work and survive in the shadow of the powerful Roman rulers who controlled the land. When he grew up, he heard about numerous uprisings to throw off the Roman yoke and started speaking out against the political powers and the religious leaders who collaborated with them. Speaking out too much and being referred to as "The King of the Jews" caused him to be executed for sedition.

Image from the BBC Photo Library
The United States is arguably the Rome of the modern world. We are the most powerful nation on Earth. Jesus would not identify with the privilege of being an average United States citizen. He did not live in abundant opulence like we do, when 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day (80% on less than $10 a day). If Jesus were an American, he would more likely identify as an undocumented immigrant or other poor, oppressed class, given his historical social standing and statement regarding wealth and poverty.

Regarding Jesus's appearance, he most certainly would be flagged for a security check and racially profiled by TSA. According to forensic anthropologists who examined countless remains from that time period to find the most likely image, he looked like a Middle-Eastern male of Arabic descent.

So, what should we do with this information? We should ask ourselves about the images we hold in our minds of important historical or cultural figures. Are they constructed based on fact or to remake someone in our image for our comfort? Does holding on to historically inaccurate images keep us from becoming a more unified society, where we can appreciate and value one another's diversity? Perhaps most importantly, do they keep us from seeing people of all races as precious children of God? If so, we may want to smash these false images as idols and dig deeper for the sake of Jesus's call to love one another as we love ourselves.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Heartbreak and Hope in Miami

Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons
Jose Antonio Vargas Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons
by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, I attended a screening of Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas’ film about his coming out as an undocumented immigrant after winning the Pulitzer Prize. His journey is honest, poignant, and humorous. A lesser subject would have cut some of the material showing the strain of the situation on his familial relations, but the film never flinches from the raw story.

I sat in on a panel discussion after the screening filled with members of an organization featured in the film, “DREAMers Moms.” I had a chance to speak with several of them, and one story stuck out in particular. One mom left her country for the good of her children so they would have hope of a positive future in the United States. She hasn’t seen her mother in 13 years and won’t until immigration reform is passed into law. If she leaves the U.S., it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed to return and care for her children. This would leave them essentially orphans who would be placed into foster care. Her mother is now in her 80s, frail and sick. This woman is losing hope of ever again touching the woman who cared for her, but still prays daily for a miracle.

Jose mentioned during the panel that a largely untold side effect of being undocumented is the toll that the constant fear of deportation and worry about family has on mental health. As he edited the film, he said, he noticed several points where he was clearly suffering from depression. I asked panelist Gaby Pacheco, an immigration activist and Dreamer who also appeared in the documentary, how she and others she knew developed mental health strategies for coping with anxiety and depression. She said it is vital to find others suffering from similar fears and share stories with them. With a lack of mental health resources for undocumented persons, that communal sharing is a form of therapy. She also voiced a need for mental health services to be included in comprehensive immigration reform.

The documentary will air on CNN, and be screened at film festivals and in theaters. Don’t miss a chance to see this film and encourage others to see this story that humanizes immigration reform. Partisan rhetoric has fueled this issue to a point beyond realism, but this film makes the political intimate and personal. After you see the film, join the discussion at organization, Address the question, “How do you define American?”

I became passionate about immigration reform a few years ago when working with pastors Javier Benitez and Hector Villanueva at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. The two work constantly to protect their parishioners from racial profiling and deportation, especially on Sunday morning when police camp outside entrances to Hispanic churches in order to profile and catch potential undocumented persons on the way to worship. This is intolerable. It is a moral imperative that we find ways to welcome the stranger as Scripture calls us to do. We must listen to immigrant stories and respond appropriately out of love. What does a Christian response to immigration look like in your community?

The article originally appeared on Sojourners.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Dying in Real Time

Terry Megginson Walton
by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, a beloved former employee of CBF named Terry Megginson Walton passed away from a long battle with cancer.  I didn’t know her very well, unfortunately, but she made me feel extremely welcome at CBF National events. She was warm, quick with a smile and a laugh, and was easy to get to know. From what I observed, Terry was keenly interested in making everyone she met feel like a beloved child of God.

Over the last few months, I noticed that more and more people were calling for others to pray for her over Facebook and email. But then something even more intimate happened. Last week, people began sharing their favorite memories of her on her Facebook pages, attaching pictures and last messages to Terry. Dozens and dozens of people were saying goodbye in the most touching of ways, which created an amazing memorial to her and a fitting tribute to a life that was clearly well-lived through her love of others.

Tears sprang to my eyes as these messages to her swallowed my Facebook feed and I realized that her life must have been coming to an end. And, a few days ago, her family relayed the news that she had indeed passed on.

As someone who knew her only briefly, I was overwhelmed with the sentiments of her friends to share their best memories with her to send her on her way. Look how many people she had touched! What a beautiful tribute!

Before Facebook was available outside of the world of college students, one of my professors, Dr. Paul Weber lost a long battle with cancer. Like Terry, his impact on the world is immeasurable. He was a former priest who married a former nun and taught political science. He always strove for a high ethical standard in whatever he pursued, and he loved mentoring students. Dr. Weber was a huge reason why I decided to go to divinity school. Before he passed, his family encouraged people to write letters of their favorite memories to him without saying goodbye or focusing on his illness. I wrote to him about his classes, my favorite lessons, and his encouragement and care outside of the classroom. I never heard a response, but this gave me an opportunity to not let anything left unsaid.

My takeaway from the lives and deaths of Terry Megginson Walton and Dr. Paul Weber is this: there are amazing people in this world who touch us deeply. We would not be the same people without them. While we can, we must let these living saints know what they mean to us before they pass on into the cloud of witnesses.

Who has loved, cared, sacrificed and mentored you? Are there friendships that have transformed you life? Don’t wait until tomorrow to tell them how much they mean to you. Let them know that their lives are well-lived, and that they have made a difference to you. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Challenge to Congress

by Rev. Ryan Eller

Members of congress are obsessed with their own opinions and even more obsessed with getting them on camera. Knowing that, this article shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. So, I did what all good nerds do when we’re pissed off, and wrote this challenge, attempting to articulate for members of congress a way for them to understand where we’re all coming from, way down here in Middle America.

A reasonable challenge to members of the United States Congress from Middle America:

1)   Don’t take your salaries while you aren’t doing your job. In both reading the constitution and looking at the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, it’s pretty clear that passing a budget (or at least a continuing resolution) and funding the basic constitutionally protected business of government (military, roads, etc. etc.) is your job (as this now ironically awkward letter from congressional Republicans even suggested back in 2010.

2)   If you take us up on this offer, because you aren’t taking your salaries, share the experience of most people without an income and default on your own debt. While you’re at it, figure out a way to provide health insurance for your family. Really, test it out by applying for COBRA or searching on the new insurance exchanges for coverage. Heck, even go down to the doctor’s office and just ask how much it would cost you for a visit, now that you’re not receiving an income and don’t have health insurance and all.

3)   While you’re at it, file for unemployment insurance. You’ll enjoy that process a great deal I’m sure. Plus, it will prepare you for your real unemployment, which I’m guessing may occur some time in November of 2014 anyway.

4)   Since you have no income and one of your family members is likely to get sick at some point, you’ll need to figure out, like most Americans, which bills to pay and which ones to put on credit (if you can still get credit, that is). Go ahead and make a list. While you’re at it, make a list of all the things that will happen in your life if you don’t pay your bills. Since you’ve likely never experienced this before, I’ll give you a few hints:

a.     Your credit score will diminish, and it will now cost you more to live because each time you take out a loan your interest rate will be higher.

b.     If you can’t make the payment on your home, try selling it to prevent foreclosure. Don’t worry too much about the memories your family has had in the home. After all, you can make new ones in the next place you live. Also, good luck with the sale since most folks won’t buy in a market full of uncertainty created by congressional inaction. Regardless, do all you can to make those house payments because, trust the rest of us when we tell you, negotiating with the banks won’t work out well for you.

c.      You’ll have bill collectors calling the house to threaten you. It’s annoying, but you’ll figure out some good ways of dealing with it eventually. That is, until they show up and repo your car. Then, well, you’ll be in need of a ride. (Note: please use this as an opportunity to learn about our public transit system, which you, as a once-elected official, were charged to oversee and fund.)

5)   Once you do feel like doing your job again, and getting paid for it (because I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take you very long once you experienced what most of us actually experience), please come back to Capitol Hill and share with your colleagues what it’s like when you can’t pay your bills (or in your case, simply choose not to even when you have never not paid them in US history). Then maybe you’ll realize that yes, there are consequences to not increasing the debt ceiling.

Do all of us middle and working class folks a solid, and just start acting like responsible leaders and do your constitutional duty. This might be hard for you to grasp, but we really don’t care which one of you comes out looking like the winner, as long as we’re not the losers in whatever game y’all think you are playing on Capitol Hill.  

Rev. Ryan Eller is a professional organizer, consultant and ordained Baptist minister, whose work includes managing nonprofits, political campaigns, and serving as the former US Campaigns Director for

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hawaii: Land of Volcanoes, Sunsets and Sea Turtles

Ryan and I at Kilauea Crater
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I went on family vacation to Hawaii recently and discovered that it is unequivocally the greatest state.  This is saying a lot from a Kentucky girl. I recently found out that Kentucky has the highest percentage of people who are born and who die in the same state. This means that friend of yours from KY will probably be moving back soon.

Only the base of Mauna Kea is
visible from below.
But even I have to step aside at the marvel of Hawaii. The localreligion and culture, which is in the middle of a renaissance that began in the 1970's, is so tied to the topography as to make the land a breathing entity all its own. This is not a hard leap in imagination to make, since the Kilauea Crater pumps out steam daily and spews lava into the ocean, vents for hundreds of square acres, and is responsible for Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two volcanic mountains that lord over the island. Only the base is visible as the rest is cloaked in heavy clouds.

Offering to Pele near steam vent
Legend has it that the Goddess Pele went from island to island creating the chain of islands comprising the state of Hawaii out of volcanoes. This Hawaiian myth lines up with scientific fact, as the trajectory of Pele's travels matches the age progression of the island--Pele's newest creation is also the newest island, The Big Island of Hawaii. Locals leave offerings for Pele near steam vents. For Hawaiians, volcanic activity decides their future and their legends urge them to appease the goddess's anger.

Sea Turtles at Black Sand Beach
Yet it is not just anger that rules the day, as the God Kane is thanked for bringing some of the most vibrant flowers and life to the island I've ever seen, coming in neon orange, purple and blue. One day while snorkeling off the beach, I was surrounded by a pod of sea turtles who had come in to feed on the algae on the rocks. How beautiful to be surrounded in a cove with such gentle, beautiful creatures. This is truly one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Ku, Hawaiian God of War
The god Ku has become synonymous with Hawaiian nationalism. Ku is a political symbol for indigenous people, who were forcefully taken over by Americans that wanted to claim the island for its strategic importance. U.S. Marines placed Queen Liliuokalani under house arrest, giving her no choice but to surrender. Now, given that we are in a new age of questioning the wisdom of colonialism, rural Hawaiians are giving serious thought to whether the U.S. governing system is the best for their land. Hawaiians have one congressperson who represents Oahu (with the populous Honolulu) and one congressperson who represents all the rest of the islands, which are mostly rural. This is an understandable point of contention. Also, rarely do indigenous persons hold office to to their socioeconomic status. Wealthier Japanese immigrants tend to rise to the top in political circles. Regardless of their political arguments, the people were the friendliest of anywhere I've traveled, striking up conversations quickly and genuinely.

Tale of how Henry Obooktah
was an "idolater" but became
a Christian, Mokuaikaua
A point of reflection for me came when I entered the oldest church in Hawaii, Mokuaikaua Church. Itseemed pretty conservative, and had a small museum in the back that recounted tales of converting local "heathens" and "idolaters." This was disheartening. I found that many locals tend to view the coming of white Christians as the first in a wave of foreigners to erase their culture. White Christians not only wanted to eradicate the local religion, but educate the people in the ways of the whites. Western culture equaled Christianity. While this is no longer how many do missions, it is a sobering thought about all that white Christians have done in the name of God, both evil and good.

Christ Church Episcopal, Hawaii
Conversely, I saw a wonderful congregation named Christ Church Episcopal that publicized local cultural events in an effort to embrace syncretism and respect for indigenous practices. It was heartening to see a positive model of Christ-like love and respect for one's neighbor being exhibited! In addition, I kind of wanted to put in my application for pastor and never leave. If I ever move away Kentucky, look for me here.
Sunset in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

I will mull over my visit for some time to come, and look forwardto learning more about the culture, beliefs, and history of Hawaiians. Have you been to Hawaii? What were your takeaways?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Soul Renewal

Erin Gordon Goddard (middle) , Sara Hof (right), me (left)
at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I had the blessing to be able to visit dear friends I see rarely who live in California a few weeks ago. To make this even more special, seeing them coincided with my birthday. Cupcakes, adventures, and exploring were on the docket. Nothing could have been a better present than seeing friends who are like family after a long time apart.

I met Erin and Sara in divinity school at Wake Forest University. I lived with Erin for two amazing years and spent countless hours in Sara's library studying (or not studying) and laughing at YouTube videos. These are two wonderful people who I know I could pick up with like no time has passed. They never judge me, they are always quick with a hug or friendly text, and are some of the most genuine and authentic people I know. In short, they have been models of Jesus's ethic of love for one's neighbor when I've lost my way. Without judgement, their unconditional love has always helped guide me through, as it seems to do with the best of friends. I am so blessed to have so many beloved friends (especially from Wake Divinity and University of Louisville and CBFNC), and I was tempted to begin naming them. Yet there are so many dear ones who have guided me along and been the loving presence of Christ.

When you encounter friends like these, it feels like your heart will burst and you can never give enough thanks to know such people. If I've learned anything from them, it is to pay it forward. When one friend renews your soul, try to renew another. Send a note or a funny present or a card that lets you know you are thinking of them. If a friend is in need of help--be it moving or some other project--make the time to be there for them. Friends who are like family are nothing short of life-giving, and they need to know you care.

I'm reminded of this quote from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 4: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." This is the mark of a healthy community, a wonderful friendship, and a model for the Kingdom of God. 

How can you model this for a friend this week?

Friday, August 30, 2013

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

"What do you want on your tombstone?" is not just a question for frozen pizza enthusiasts, but a real question for us to ponder. What would you want a complete stranger to know about you in a nutshell 10, 20, or 100 years from now?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were walking through the famous Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, resting place of Colonel Sanders, George Rogers Clark, and the teacher who wrote the "Happy Birthday" song, Patty Hill, among others. It's also well known for its gorgeous and sometimes wacky monuments.

While the eye is drawn toward the showiness of Colonel Sanders' marble columns and stately bust, it's the understated tomb of his grandson, Harland Morrison Adams, that stuck with me. Harland's inscription states, "I HAD A GREAT TIME!" Of all the loving and touching inscriptions on various tombs, this one was my takeaway. What was this person's life like? What made this person live to the fullest? The only information I could find out about him was that he donated money to charity, loved his wife, was an avid skier, and had a ski slope named after him in Aspen.

What is holding you back detracting from your happiness? Are you not following through on your dreams because of your fears? One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "Do one thing  every day that scares you." I can just see Harland flying down a ski slope shouting and afterward hugging his wife at the ski lodge.

I tend to weigh the negatives of a situation a lot. It's in my blood. I come from a line of worriers and my sister is an insurance defense attorney who can quote accidents and death rates like nobody's business. Yet, I'm compelled to board a roller coaster, zip line, or otherwise statistically stupid ride or experience to push me outside my comfort zone. If I don't, I tend to find that fear, routine, and complacency creep in. And, honestly, humans struggle with fear quite a lot. The Bible has quite a lot to say about fear, with various passages and authors imploring us not to fear because God is with us.

In addition to trying to love to the fullest, let us also live to the fullest. Let's push the boundaries, try repeatedly to assuage our fears, and remember that God is always with us.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Benefits of Being Five Years Old

by Rev. Laura Barclay

My niece, Téa, recently turned five and wore this fabulous number. If you can't tell, she is wearing red cowboy boots, a floral skirt with a blue plastic grass skirt on top, a green shirt with flowers on it, a lei, and a multi-colored, peace symbol headband. And to that I say, rock it! More than one, partygoers kept looking at her and saying, "I wish I could still dress like that."

In addition, she completed an art project, which consisted of painting her own treasure box, fit as many of her friends as possible in a giant chair, ate copious amounts of pizza and cake, and played on giant bouncy slides and castles for an hour. She had a blast and it was fun to watch. 

Remember when birthdays started to go downhill after 21 or so? At 25 you could rent cars at a cheaper rate, but that was the last real milestone of adult freedom. Now, birthdays seem to be ignored due to shame ("I'm 29, I swear. Shut up!") or subdued due to indifference ("I think I'll just stay in. Nobody cares that I'm 52."). 

What if we just donned our grass skirts and went for it? Are we afraid people will judge us for having a good time on our birthdays? Afraid that people will think we are too old for that? We all deserve to be happy and celebrated as children of God. Our births are special, no matter if we are 5, 55, or 105.  

So, the next time you see a kid in a tiki, mermaid, or pirate outfit screaming, "Oh yeah, it's my birthday!", consider throwing a pirate-themed fiesta yourself. I might even help plan it with you if there's a cutlass and eyepatch for me! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Surprise Resurrection Flower

by Rev. Laura Barclay

A few weeks ago, Ryan and I were surprised to find a bunch of stalks shooting up through our yard that we neither planted nor knew about. We began to notice them all over Louisville.

A few days later, they shot up about two feet and exploded in a wonder of pink and purple. The flowers were transforming ordinary yards into fairytale landscapes all over the city. If you examine the petals closely, they shimmer in the light.

Now the petals have fallen off and they've mostly disappeared, but for weeks we were astounded at one of many surprises our new home city, Louisville, had in store. Our neighbor told us that these flowers were planted decades ago and still shoot up every year.

It's a bit of a reminder that in the humdrum routine of life, everyday miracles can happen. We can still be surprised, no matter how cynical or immune to wonder we tend to be. So take a walk, look around, and prepare to be amazed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Has Anyone Ever Told You That You're Going to Hell?

by Rev. Laura Barclay

If someone has condemned you to hell, at least I'll be in the same boat with you!

Here is a sampling of the reasons I have been told definitively or warned by conservative Christians that I was going to hell:

  • Not being baptized at 5 or 6. How is this different from infant baptism? My parents encouraged me to wait until I had thought through it and I was baptized at 11, which was significantly older than most in my church.
  • Criticizing the Catholic Church for exclusion of women in an academic paper, with cited sources.*
  • Having gay and lesbian friends. This, in my view, was the worst. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love. Whatever you personally believe about sexuality, you should never exclude others or criticize people for loving their friends.
  • Telling a professor I was wrestling with Jesus' divinity. Isn't talking through this with Christians the way you are supposed to work these issues out?. *
  • Being a female minister. 

When people tell me they aren't Christians or don't go to church because they have serious issues with hypocrisy, even to the point where they question the existance of God, I get it. I have had similar experiences to most of these folks. Some of us who had these experiences decided to stay and work with more moderate churches and others decided that they needed to leave (or had no other option as they were surrounded by intolerant congregations). I see this as very similar to the Protestant Reformation--some Catholics were involved in an internal reformation and some got out and started/joined other denominations.

As part of a healing process, whether you stayed with the church or left, I would encourage you to forgive those who condemned you. I am an unabashed lover of Jesus, and whether you think he was Christ, a prophet, a nice man, or a crazy person, I'm sure we can all agree that he had some fantastic teachings. The miracle of forgiveness is that it releases you from the negative energy of hatred. When you don't forgive, you are chained to the person who wronged you indefinitely. The hatred grows and you become defined by it. In a sense, they win. But if you forgive them, you are released and love can take its place. Forgiveness transforms who you are and perhaps will change the person who wronged you in the long run. Maybe they will see that you live by the one rule that counts--love. Because, as John reminds us in 1 John 4:8, "God is love."

* Note: My college experience at was fantastic. Only two out of the dozens of professors I had were fundamentalists when it came to religion. The freedom of my college years allowed me to explore my thoughts and feelings in a way no church I had attended, until late in my junior year, allowed. Ultimately, this freedom brought me back to the church in a healthy way.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Loving Our Frailties

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This weekend, I attended a new members class at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. The 100 year old sanctuary is gorgeous, decorated in an English Country Gothic style. In the 1970s, stained glass windows were installed with pictures of apostles and saints throughout history. One panel in particular struck me. Each of the apostles had two symbols representative of their lives in each hand. 

Peter in the middle, top panel, holds a key in his left hand. This is indicative of the passage from Matthew 16:18-19 where Jesus says, 
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock. I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
On this passage is the basis for the Catholic tradition that Peter was the first pope--the first head--of the one global church on which Jesus laid the foundation through his ministry.  Whether or not you interpret the passage this way, it is inarguable that Peter had a profound impact on the shape and spread of Christianity after the death of Jesus.

Yet, notice what Peter has in the other hand. He is holding a rooster, which is the symbol of his betrayal that Jesus predicts in Matthew 26:34: "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." This becomes true later when Peter pretends that he does not know Jesus after his arrest. So how is it that the man with the keys to the kingdom also betrays Jesus? 

The apostles are portrayed almost as comic relief in the gospels. They don't understand Jesus' message or miss the point, allowing Jesus to clarify. In the famous "Feeding of the 5,000" story in Matthew 14, the apostles want to send the crowds away rather than feed them. Jesus says to them in what I can almost imagine as an exhausted eye-roll of a tone in verse 6, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."

While the apostles keep screwing up during Jesus' life, they are forced to organize after his death. They realize what Jesus' teachings meant to them and that it's up to them to spread the message. Jesus is entrusting it to them, for all their bumbling imperfections. In Matthew 28, they are asked to go throughout the nations and spread the teachings. 

If we believe that Jesus was both fully human and divine, then we must understand that he knows the horror of human fear. In the garden before his arrest he was sweating blood (Luke 22). This is a very real condition called hematidrosis, which is brought on by extreme fear and anxiety. Imagine Jesus in the garden in the dead of night alone, sweating blood, crying, in the midst of a panic attack, pleading with God to "take this cup from me." Most of us would have a similar reaction to the possibility of being crucified. 

I think Jesus would absolutely understand Peter's betrayal in the face of death. This is why Peter's commitment to Jesus' message after the crucifixion is even more profound. The theologian Origen would later go on to confirm Peter's upside down crucifixion in Rome, showing both Rome's continued cruelty to perceived insurrectionists and his willingness to die for his beliefs. 

Each of us is a bundle of courage and fear, loyalty and betrayal. We must come to terms with this and love ourselves, as God does, not in spite of our frailty, but because of them. Humans are beautiful, messy creatures that are far from perfect, but we are made in God's image. And if we believe that God understands humanity even more intimately through Christ's experience, then we have to trust that God is there when we are paralyzed with fear or, God help us, when we betray one another. If anything, we must learn to forgive ourselves as God forgives us so that we can begin to see ourselves as children of God. The next time you fall short of your expectations, don't dwell on it. Know that God is there, cringing with you in sympathy, and ready to remind you that you are loved. You just have to accept that unconditional love, which may be the hardest lesson for humans to learn.

Friday, July 26, 2013

When Friendships End

by Rev. Laura Barclay

One of the more painful or disruptive events in life can be the end of a friendship. For various reasons, people lose friends. Sometimes we drift apart as our life experiences differ, sometimes one friend chooses a destructive path and the other one can't follow, and sometimes we try to make something work that simply doesn't. Occasionally, as in failed relationships, we try to look back and figure out where things went wrong.

We ask ourselves the following questions: What if we had done things differently? What if we had been more intentional instead of drifting apart? Should we have endured more before ending the friendship? What happened?

Some of mine have ended for a variety of reasons: geography; mutual drifting apart due to separate interests; he/she or I didn't have the emotional maturity to deal with situations in a friendship; selfishness  (again he/she or I); or, occasionally, behavior that crosses the line of what one can tolerate in a friendship (e.g. sexual harassment, violence, etc.).

The truth is, many friendships end. Rev. Shasta Nelson shares several questions one should ask before ending a friendship. These might be helpful in working through the situation you are in or have just experienced. What I really like about this article is that she stresses listening, compassion and forgiveness while understanding that if you have done your part, it might be time to "drift apart."

In the times when I have had to "drift apart" from someone, or someone has had to do that to me, I try to pray for forgiveness for my failings in that relationship and bless the other person. We tend to view everything as one-sided, though that is rarely the case. Instead, I visualize a prayer that is something like the following:

God, I am sorry for my failings in this friendship. Even as I mourn the end of this earthly relationship, I have hope in your heavenly kingdom. In Revelation 7:9, John tells us that he sees, "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands." We know that some day we will all carry the palm branches of peace, and we will continue to work in your name to do so. Please bless those who are no longer earthly friends to do the same and to flourish, and may we all keep hope in you, God. Amen.

This helps us acknowledge our own failings while affirming hope in our shared God and blessing those who we are no longer friends with to do the same and to be well. The worst thing you can do is to maintain bitterness that will only hurt your happiness and keep you from being the authentically beautiful child of God that you are. Remember that your former friends have taught you valuable lessons about yourself that you will carry for life and have probably made you a better, more thoughtful and less selfish person.

So blessings to friends, former friends and friends yet to be for your love, compassion, life lessons learned and still to be learned!

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Am My Grandma...and other Revelations

My Mammaw with my newest cousin, Tyler
Rev. Laura Barclay

As I transition to life in Kentucky, I am also learning more about gardening, vintage items, older homes, and new neighbors. I have spent more time with my grandmother, who has a love of antiques, canning, and telling my Pappaw to get out of the kitchen and stop telling her how to cook.

In my conversations with her, I have discovered that she is resourceful, tough, funny, loves children, and cares very much about preserving the past. As a women who watched one daughter suffer and survive polio and lost another suddenly only a year and a half ago, I understand that this love of the past is also deeply personal. Because of this realization, her words carry more weight as someone who has endured much and has life lessons to teach.

Mammaw warns about the costs of vegetables rising and supplies her own by canning the veggies from Pappaw's thriving garden. Yet she shares readily with neighbors, relatives, and whoever might show up at her door. She attends church and volunteers regularly. She could the quintessential character in a Clyde Edgerton novel.

I have since noticed the cost of vegetables and have considered canning. I learned we have an interest in estate sales and antiquing in common because you can get wonderful items at a great deal, and I think if either of us could live in a museum, we would. She was influenced by the times in which she was raised--the Great Depression. My generation has been shaken by the Great Recession--no longer do we believe in a guarantee of jobs, retirement, monetary success or a stable housing market. My grandmother watches her Social Security checks fail to meet inflation and wonders if she'll always have enough. For all our political differences, both believe the government has failed in its promise to care for veterans like my grandfather.  Instead of caring about living up to societal standards of success--whatever that means--we care more about the ideal of living in community instilled in us from church.

Now, on the eve of my grandparents 65th wedding anniversary, as we bond over gardens, antiques, church talk, looking at pictures of long-lost relatives and our concern for the present, I'm thankful that instead of thinking of all the years between us I can focus on our commonalities and learn more about my grandmother beyond her identity as "Mammaw."

How about you? Is there a relative of family friend you have had or wish you had the opportunity to get to know beyond their relational identity to you? What is your mother, father, brother, sister, grandma, or aunt like outside of their identity as family member?

Friday, July 12, 2013

You Are Enough!

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I had the fortune of spending July 4th weekend at a house party with some dear friends and setting off fireworks in the street like a kid. These friends have a 2 year-old daughter, Lily, who is sweet, agreeable, loving, and confident. Lily got her face painted like a butterfly, and when she toddled around and smiled, we all said, "Oh my gosh, you are so cute!"

She looked up at all of us, grinned even bigger and said, "I know!"

I was struck by the beauty of this statement in a world where women (and an increasing amount of men) are told by every form of media they aren't pretty enough, thin enough, strong enough, fit enough, healthy enough or give enough time to their partners, their workplaces, and their kids. The covers of magazines demand we lose "5, 10, 15 pounds now for swimsuit season!" and become "bikini ready."

This child, who is dearly loved by her parents, extended family and friends, knows that she is enough. I worry that her, and other little girls like her, will lose that confidence as they get older and tall enough to see the magazine covers and perceptive enough to notice that most models and many actresses are dangerously skinny.

In Apostle Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he states that is proud of the community for their hopeful outlook and expresses sadness at being away from this community. Toward the end of his letter, Paul asks them to continue to "encourage one another and build up each other" (1 Thess. 5:11 NRSV).

This is a fantastic piece of advise for us to follow. If we proclaim to be Christ-followers in a society that can be very shallow, how can we build one another up to be strong against the cultural forces that constantly tell us we aren't good enough?

Consider the following ways to build one another (and yourself) up:

1) Tell your friends and family that you love them regularly.

2) Tell others what you like about them on a regular basis--is it their thoughtfulness, presence, skill, compassion, etc?

3) Drop e-mails, Facebook messages, Tweets, texts or an old-fashioned hand-written postcard or letter to tell someone you love them and are thinking about them! Think about how you feel when you receive a message from a friend and pay it forward!

4) Get rid of the scales and encourage others to do this. Are you eating healthy and exercising? If the answer is yes, then great! Don't measure your worth by a number but by how healthy you feel. If the answer is no, think about ways you can be healthy with your friends that would build one another up, like taking Zumba or Yoga classes together, going on walks after work in groups, rotating cooking healthy meals for one another, or a weekend hiking trip.

5) Make a list of all that you are grateful for at the end of each day. This will end the day on a positive note, and lessen your anxieties. Did any person(s) show up on that list? Then see #3 and let them know!

I hope these tips encourage you to lean into your identity as a beloved child of God and encourage you to help others to do the same!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Night Gardening

by Rev. Laura Barclay 

Since moving to Louisville about two weeks ago and having a backyard, I have been covered in dirt and sweat almost everyday. I have long felt that my grandfather's love of farming and working the earth was an innate part of my being, instilled at birth. Living in a condo without even a patio to have a potted garden made me, on my best days, stare wistfully at nearby trees out the window. On the worst days, I could be spotted prowling the aisles at Lowe's or Home Depot, daydreaming about a future garden in another locale.

The day we got home with our plants and soil, the sun was setting, but my enthusiasm bubbled over. I just had to start now! My husband looked quizzically at my while I hauled plants across the yard and into raised beds. 

"Shouldn't you wait until morning?" he asked.

"I know. I'm just so excited though. I want to plan a few things tonight." And there I was--night gardening.

This leads me to two conclusions. First, I'm right where I need to be and the energy and enthusiasm of my actions seem to concur. Second, I must be getting old! Gardening after dark seems like a thrill!

In thinking about the last few weeks, I realize I have learned several things since embarking upon the cultivation of our yard:

1) There is little else in life as satisfying as working up a sweat, being covered in dirt, and seeing the fruits of your labor. This is a satisfaction that will never come from sitting behind a desk. God's vision for humanity to care for the earth and all the creatures in it in Genesis 1 never seems more true than when carefully setting aside earthworms and pill bugs as I dig, putting them back to symbiotically work in my garden. So, especially for those like me who mostly work behind desks, get out there and start a garden or help with a community or church garden!

2) Everything seems connected and anything that is in disharmony with God's vision is seen for what it is: disruptive, unimportant, and out of unity with God and God's people.  Road rage? It's a useless expense of hate and energy. Gossiping about that person you don't like? It won't do anyone any good and it will make you feel worse afterwards. Having divisive arguments with a family member or friend about politics? Well, being "right" won't win you any friends or convince anyone of your viewpoint!

3)  I am literally stronger now than ever before. Gardening is hard, messy, heavy work. But if you invest in it, your body will thank you after you work through the muscle pains. Your body will strengthen and respond to your efforts. Many Christians get hung up on the 1 Corinthians 6 text, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" They will preach never to have a sip of wine, yet sit down to Wednesday night church dinners of fried foods, bread pudding and sweet tea. As a result, the Bible Belt is straining from the excess weight. The most obese states are in the South. However, when we understand where our food comes from and have a relationship with the land, we can strike an appropriate balance in our lives.

I look forward to learning more lessons on gardening and life from neighbors, family and friends!