A Letter to the President

Dear President Trump:

I am sure you are getting letters from groups that feel like they are being mistreated.  Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, women, Jews, the poor, and the LGBTQ community have legitimate concerns, but have you also thought about how you are making life more difficult for preachers?  Ministers are not usually considered an oppressed group, but preaching was easier before you became president.

Most preachers are not looking for trouble.  We do not want to offend church members.  We have no interest in partisan politics.  We try to be respectful of those who do not vote as we do.  Preachers say things like “We are not all going to agree,” “Good people have different opinions,” and “My mother never votes like I do and she’s a fine person.”

But you are making it hard.  On the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was preaching on racism.  I finished preparing the sermon on Friday afternoon.  On Saturday you sent a tweet insulting John Lewis, “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results.  Sad!”  How could I preach on bigotry on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and not mention the President picking a fight with a Civil Rights hero?  If you feel like you have to do things like this, it would be helpful if you would do them early in the week so preachers do not have to rewrite their sermons on Saturday night.

How can ministers preach on telling the truth without using the phrase “alternative facts”?  How can we preach on equality without noting that you have said horrible things about women?  How can we preach on caring for the hurting without pointing out that you are cancelling health insurance for twenty million people?  How can we preach on the biblical command to welcome strangers without commenting on the wall and the ban on immigration?

Preachers do not have a choice.  We have to preach that God loves all people and does not believe in America first.  If we preach the Gospel, some are going to think we are taking shots at you.

You are forcing preachers to mention you or look hopelessly out of touch.  If we do not respond to the things you say, then some are going to assume we are asleep in the pulpit.  Do we risk offending church members or feel like cowards?

You could make our lives easier.  You could replace the Affordable Care Act with the More Affordable Care Act.  You could work to alleviate hunger.  You could strengthen our commitment to education.  You could diminish the spread of terrorism by lessening the causes of terrorism.  You could make the lives of so many people better.  Some of them are preachers.


Rev.  Brett Younger
Plymouth Church, Senior Minister


Life is so daily

Pete Valentine has held court on her Willow Street stoop for years.  She tells about her encounter with Cher during the filming of Moonstruck on Cranberry Street with delighted tourists.  Tales of her magical childhood in Brooklyn Heights- roller skating to school and being given a horse by her God father- resonate with locals old and new.  Neighborhood dogs pull their owners to her stoop for a treat.  Every time I see Pete, she reminds me “Life is so daily.” Every time I hear it, I think I get it, maybe.

This past Sunday, I benefited from false advertising.  Crafting for a Cause was meeting for the first time.  Based on past classes, I prepared for a handful of older children, many of them girls.  The class started at 1; by 1:10, there were fifteen six and seven year olds in the room, all but two of them boys!  Odd, I thought as I scrambled to come up with more age appropriate activities.  Rolling pins and paint brushes replaced sewing needles and weaving looms.  I was a bit disappointed.

My announcement that we would begin crafting was met with an unexpected cheer.  Several children shouted “I love Mine Craft!” Mystery solved.  Mine Craft is a popular video game, not the activity I had planned.  I started to explain what we were doing and why, when a fight over a sword and some small animal figures- three raccoons and two mice- ensued.  Feeling more and more defeated, I began negotiations.  Mid-negotiation, one of the children asked, “Will we be painting?”  He had noticed the brushes. “Yes” derailed the negotiations (which were at a pathetic stalemate.) Everyone charged to the tables.  Crafting began.

fullsizerender1While our creations will not be sold on Etsy or displayed on Pinterest, I could not have felt happier.  For almost an hour, we worked diligently on bird houses and Easter bunnies.  Most of us used too much paint.  Many of the Easter bunnies heads are bigger than their bodies.  Everyone was happy.  As the kids talked and laughed while they worked, I finally allowed myself to enjoy the moment.  It was not about the end product but the process that included new friendships being formed and old ones being strengthened.

At pick up, two of the fathers peered into the Bowling Alley and reminisced about their childhoods at Plymouth.  It struck me that as parents, they had returned to Plymouth.  I hoped their children would one day do the same.

If the day had turned out as I had planned it, none of this would have happened.  We try so hard to control our lives but we are not in charge.  God gives us small reminders of who is and why.  Pete is right, “Life is so daily.”



Asking Big Questions

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
and to let the oppressed go free.
—Luke 4:18

Reflecting Christ’s vision is hard.  Most churches do not have a poverty committee, a prison ministry, an anti-racism task force, an environment ministry, or a world hunger committee.  Every church struggles with the temptation of managing the ministry of the church rather than doing ministry.

We easily forget that the church does not have a mission.  God has a mission in which the church gets to participate.  Churches are at risk of getting stuck in the church.  How can we help people serve God?

The Church Staff and the Church Council have been talking about how to lean into bigger questions—away from business-as-usual church questions and into being-the-people-of-God questions.  Can our committees, ministries, and task forces focus on the questions God might have us ask?  For instance:

Children’s Christian Ed
            From the good question:
How do we lead and support children’s activities?
            To the bigger question:
How can we teach children to live as God’s people?

Christian Help
            From the good question:
How can we best share money with other ministries?
            To the bigger question:
How can we as a church use our gifts to serve God?

            From the good question:
How can we be responsible fiduciaries?
            To the bigger question:
How do we share who we are and what we have been given?

            From the good question:
How can we provide a strong resource sharing our church’s history?
            To the bigger question:
How can we interpret and share the faith that led Plymouth to serve God in courageous ways?

Membership and Fellowship
From the good question:
How can we welcome new people into our church?
To the bigger question:
How can we practice hospitality that invites people to be part of God’s church?

From the good question:
How do we find the best person for each responsibility?
To the bigger question:
How can we discover our people’s gifts and help them use those gifts for God’s purpose?

            From the good question:
How do we write and implement helpful policies?
            To the bigger question:
How can we help the staff serve God more fully?

            From the good question:
How do we raise the money to fund the church’s ministry?
            To the bigger question:
How do we help people give themselves more fully to God?

Women’s and Men’s Ministries
            From the good question:
How can we provide significant events?
            To the bigger question:
How can we help our people live as God’s people?

Worship and Arts
            From the good question:
How do we improve the events for which we are responsible?
To the bigger question:
How can we use the arts to worship God more seriously and joyfully?

Plymouth will keep looking for ways to move from the good question, “How can we be a good church?” to the bigger question, “How can we be God’s church?”



Born to Run (but it took me a while to figure it out)

I was fourteen years old when Bruce Springsteen released the Born to Run albumthough for me it was the Born to Run 8-track.  The player in my 1969 Chevy Impala eventually required a Popsicle stick to adjust the tracking, because I wore it out singing those eight songs over and over: Someday girl I don’t know when we’re gonna’ get to that place were we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun, but till then tramps like us baby we were born to run.

When Bruce and the E Street Band came to Cleveland a friend said, “A bunch of us are going to hear Springsteen.  Do you want to go?”

Most aficionados would have immediately, enthusiastically shouted, “Yes!” but most aficionados weren’t conservative-leaning-to-fundamentalist-Christians.  I ended up saying “No,” because I was afraid of the people who would be there.  I pictured a crowd drinking beer and smoking dope.  My religious upbringing made it clear that I shouldn’t be part of a mob of criminals, reprobates, and good for nothings.

I was forty-seven before I got to my first Springsteen concert.  When we got to our seats—which were “backstage” but not in a good way—the could-have-been-a-vice-principal next to Carol asked, “Do you think we’ll have to stand through this?”

A quick glance at the gray hair around us made Carol confident in saying, “I’m sure we’ll get to sit.”

We stood for the whole two and half hours.  Some danced in the aisles.  We clapped and raised our hands.  We shouted and sang as a congregation.   It felt like a Pentecostal revival.

The Boss thinks we are all in this together—criminals, reprobates and church people:

Everybody needs a place to rest

Everybody wants to have a home

Don’t make no difference what nobody says

Ain’t nobody like to be alone.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart.

I looked at the people who were singing with such joy and was embarrassed for myself and for the part of the church that keeps pushing people away.  The choir included drinkers and teetotalers, the promiscuous and the chaste, black and white, old and young, bikers and preachers.  Where in the Gospels do any of us get the idea that church people should feel superior to anyone else in the crowd?

On Sunday, January 22, at 3:00 at the parsonage, a group will gather to discuss Bruce’s new memoir, Born to Run, and how God loves us all—even the tramps like us that were born to run.