Monthly Archives: December 2012

Biggest Freebie Ever

Pastors hear everything.  No matter what is said about the pastor- their church, their personal life, or even their dog (fill in husband, child, car, choice of earrings, length of skirt)—it eventually makes it back to the pastor. And although some comments are not as complementary as one would want (at a previous church it was said the pastor—that would be me—looked a lot less “washed out” when she remembered to wear lipstick.  OK. I had to agree), I did just hear the most wonderful thing about Zion and inadvertently, about me.   Apparently, it was said (in a local restaurant a few days ago) that Zion was going downhill rapidly because it is “filling up with poor people who just go there to get all the freebies.”   Btw, the person who said this is not a member and doesn’t attend Zion.

Not everything I hear through the church grapevine makes me feel as deeply happy as that statement (i.e., the lipstick comment).  Wow.  Low income people feel comfortable worshipping at Zion and know they will leave with some freebies.  I am wondering what those freebies are.  Food?  Certainly. Our food pantry is open to all people all the time–our motto: “as much food as you want, as often as you want.”  Clothes?  Absolutely.  We recently purchased a pair of steel-toed boots for a young woman so she could take a job in a local factory.  Job search?  No problem. Deb will help you create a resume and apply online.  Money for a water bill? Heat? Help with rent?  A gas voucher?  School supplies for your kids?  Yes.  Zion is full of freebies and for that I thank God every day.  I love serving a congregation that knows the joy of giving and the gospel of hospitality.    I wish I could personally thank the individual who said we were “filling up with poor people.”   Can there be a greater complement given to those who follow Jesus?  My only hope is that everyone sitting in that restaurant heard her and went home wondering about the church with all the freebies.  

I do have one problem.  The individual has the order of things confused.  She implies that the reason “the poor” show up for worship is because they will go home with some freebies–as if our worship service were some sort of liturgical Happy Meal with a toy waiting in the bottom of the bag.  Instead, I would say that most of our very low income people sitting in the pews first came to Zion to receive assistance (I prefer “assistance” to “freebies” but I suppose it’s all the same) and in the process of receiving assistance, they established relationship with people in the church.  Then, feeling welcomed and safe, they began to attend church. In other words, these “poor people” are drawn to worship because they experienced the true generosity of an authentic church community.  Naturally, they wanted to be a part of it.

We have moved through the days and nights of Advent watching and waiting for the coming of the Christ child.  God’s Son given to the world in all its brokenness.  The gift of Jesus. Perhaps the biggest freebie ever offered.   Go to church for the freebies.  Sit in the pews and listen to the voice of God.  Take home a bag filled with groceries or a heart filled with the knowledge of God’s Presence in the world. 

Merry Christmas Everyone,

Pastor Jane



Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


Homeless, Mentally Ill and a Rock Through a Window

The piece of cement still sits on the floor where it fell. A shattered window lets in the cold December air. Earlier today, a homeless woman threw the cement through a window of the church, climbed over the jagged shards of glass and entered the building. Mentally ill, in need of medication, food, and a winter coat, she ran through the sanctuary and then out the front door into the winter morning.

I have met her before. A month ago, she came into the church when the door was momentarily propped open (we have a security system where we buzz people in) and paced in a tight circle muttering words I couldn’t understand and then demanded a bible. Handing her the bible, I asked her to leave. She grabbed the bible and told me she was going to burn it that night. She hurried out back to the street and was gone. I am generally not afraid of the many homeless and nearly homeless people that come through the doors of Zion church. She scared me though. Tall and angry, she seemed out of control.

A colleague once criticized me for keeping the church door locked during the day. He is a catholic priest, a man, and doesn’t live in my world. I told him that unfortunately hospitality doesn’t trump security though I wish it did. Of course all the security in the world doesn’t keep someone from throwing a rock through a window and climbing in. And yet, as unsafe as the church staff might feel knowing that anyone who feels like it can bypass our expensive security system (complete with camera and buzzer) and come right in, it is not as unsafe as the woman must feel as she sleeps on the street, hears voices, and runs from the police. I would imagine that her world is unsafe to the point of daily terror. And yet, she is not uncommon. Over one-third of all homeless people have untreated psychiatric illnesses–about 250,000 individuals. (1)

In 2006, a study of 81 US cities, demonstrated a direct correlation between the decreasing availability of psychiatric hospital beds and the increase in homelessness. This study validates previous research conducted in Massachusetts and Ohio demonstrating that “27 and 36 percent of the discharges from state mental hospitals had become homeless within six months.” (2) In Jesus’s day, mental illness was understood as demon-possession and he called those demons out healing all whom he touched. Today, the demons of mental illness can be healed not with the touch of Jesus but with appropriate medical care. Except that there isn’t any. You might as well wait for the apocalypse than wait on help for those who are mentally ill and homeless.

Throughout the day following the window breaking, church members retold the story. I noticed that we described the woman who did it as “crazy” “on something” “out of her mind”. Sometimes we would laugh or smile as we described her bizarre behavior. Perhaps we had to make light of her not because we are really that insensitive (I hope), but because we desperately need to be freed from the responsibility and frustration that we feel for the woman and people like her. It is easier to laugh than it is to acknowledge the utter hopelessness of her situation. Our frustration comes from the reality that no matter how many bags of food, free winter coats, or soup kitchen meals we offer this person, none of it matters as long as her mental illness is untreated. She doesn’t stand a chance. Like many churches, the outreach program of Zion is great for people who have the chemistry of their brain in balance, but not for anyone who needs true mental health help.

A woman whose very existence is abysmal, dangerous, and deeply sad, throws a rock through a church window. And the only thing the church could fix was the window.



Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


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“Our Hopes and Fears Are Met in Thee Tonight”

I want to respond somehow to the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut yesterday; yet, I find I have few words. All I can say is this– gather with those you love and together pray for the parents and grandparents of the children who died. Pray for the brother of the boy who killed them. Pray for the teachers and students who will someday walk through the halls of their school again.

It is still Advent. Remember the coming of the Christ child. Remind yourself of the hope he brings to the world.

Pastor Jane


Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Blogging With Jane


The Baby Jesus Loses the War on Christmas. A Good Thing


According to the conservative media, we are at war with Christmas. As a member of the Protestant clergy all I can say is—I hope Christmas loses. May the baby Jesus roll over in his manger and kick his swaddled little feet in joyful acknowledgement of pluralistic America. If we are indeed at war for a plastic nativity scene, the words merry Christmas (btw, there was nothing remotely “merry” about the birth of Jesus), the right to call a lighted evergreen with a star on top a “Christmas” tree, then I hope the other team wins and my team loses. Christians should be at war with anything as exclusive as the way Americans celebrate Christmas. We should certainly be at war with anything that represents Christianity as superior to other world religions and world views. The war on Christmas is a good thing.

Fox News tells us that “88% of Americans still believe in Christmas”. Interesting, since there aren’t even that many Christians in America (according to the Pew Forum only 70% of Americans identify as Christian). So at least 18% of America is running around believing in Christmas but not in Jesus? So what is Christmas if it can be “believed in” absent its actual founder? The Fox News commentator who adamantly said that 88% of Americans still believe in Christmas, obviously counts herself in that group. I wonder if she is also one of the Americans who doesn’t believe in Jesus? It would appear so. Or at least not the Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus came to set free the oppressed, feed the poor, make the last first. Not really topics that gain a lot of coverage on Fox News.

The baby Jesus (and the adult Jesus) did not come to be the thing-that-everyone-does from Thanksgiving through the after-Christmas sales at Younkers. The baby Jesus did not come to be everyone’s favorite holiday. The baby Jesus did not come so we can feel religiously safe/superior when we drive past nativity scenes set up on public property. Jesus was subversive, revolutionary, Jewish, a convicted criminal and executed for seditious behavior. I am glad there is a war on Christmas. Hopefully we can defeat the Christmas that memorializes the birth of the meek and mild Jesus and in doing so, usher back in the subversive Jesus who came to establish a new social order.

Your heart can thrill to the sound of O Holy Night but don’t ignore the lyrics:

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

This recent war could be a good thing. It could save Jesus from Christmas.


Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Blogging With Jane

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