What, Then, Can We Do?

Members of the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, the Vice President of the United States, all of their staff members, those who work in the U.S. Capitol building – all of them could easily have lost their lives on January 6 while doing the work before them. One police officer and several others died. Their lives were threatened, not by a plane flown by a foreigner who hates the United States, not by a spy who had infiltrated the government to such an extent that they could make such a credible threat. No, their lives were threatened by a mob of insurrectionists led astray and enraged by those who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, which is the founding and enduring document that created and sustains our fragile union as a country. 
Pastors and other leaders in congregations are often admonished to avoid reference to politics so as not to disturb those with whom they might personally disagree. This is not a time to be silent about those who threatened the lives of these public servants nor to be silent about the rage and the lies that fueled their actions. It is especially not a time for church leaders to be silent because of the way the seditionists have conflated their desire to overthrow democracy with the Christian faith. Carrying a cross or a sign about Jesus while calling for the Vice President to be hanged cannot be ignored. 
Addressing the events of January 6 and all that preceded it, and will continue for the months and years to come, is also a delicate path for religious leaders.
  • We cannot present ourselves as wise and others as gullible.
  • We cannot claim that these actions do not represent the American people when there are those among us who have felt this anger and level of violence directed at them for generations because they have been seen as different or un-American.
  • We cannot call people back to the “Christian principles on which this nation was founded” when that founding meant the slaughter and removal of the people who first lived here and the enslavement and degradation of the people whose toil created wealth we enjoy.
  • We cannot imagine that we are all treated according to the equality with which we were created when we have seen with our own eyes that this is not the case.

What, then, can we do?

  • Psalm 146:3. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” Remind people that no politician is a savior. There is only one Savior who called us to love one another with servant love.
  • James 3:5a “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature and is itself set on fire by hell.” Guard your own speech. Be sure that what you say is true. Call out falsehood when you hear it.
  • I Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” Practice this love to which we are called. Expect this love from those with whom you serve.
  • Philippians 4:8-9a “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard.” The problem with being a Christian is not that it is confusing or opaque. The problem is that it is so hard to do.
This will be another momentous week-and-a-half in the life of the United States of America. There will surely be at least the attempt of more violence and the propagation of more lies and hatred and venom. Guard your own energy and soul so that you can continue to lead. Call out hypocrisy and evil when you see it. Our call always has been and remains this: to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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A Pandemic Greets the Holidays

Everyone here in church-ville knows what to expect
When the calendar turns, fall and winter connect.
It’s that crunch time of parties and turkey and wreaths.
The time when we all feel just buried beneath
Cookie baking, gift wrapping and tree trimming time.
But this year the mountain is harder to climb.
We know how to manage on three hours’ sleep.
We know how the tree looks, traditions to keep.
We know how to dress in our red and green.
We know how to fit in our families between.
We know people count on us, making the season.
But this year we wonder, just what is the reason?
For this year we huddle in groups less than ten.
This year we muddle around our own dens.
Will we really give thanks with just cats by our side?
Will we watch our team triumph without a high five?
Will we light advent candles alone in the dark?
Will we only remember the carols in the park?
Can we have our Thanksgiving without all the trappings?
Can we welcome the savior without all the wrappings?
Consider the lilies, we once were told.
Remember our faith does not come wrapped in gold.
The worries of this day will be quite sufficient.
The people who pay you to be so proficient
At preaching and singing and leading the throng
Will not think that you have done anything wrong.
Make sure that you have a most thankful heart.
Welcome the savior alone in the dark.
This year is not gone to a Grinchy pandemic.
This year is a gift; it’s just more pathogenic.
So find your own joy; weep a tear if you must.
Remember this year hasn’t stolen our trust.
The promise of faith is the same now as always.
God loves you, and cares for you, in big and small ways.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Confidence and Humility

I am reading a new book by Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite authors. It is the fourth in a series that began with Gilead. Each book tells the stories of the same characters from the point of view of a different one of the characters. I think I first read Gilead because at the time of its publication I was a pastor in Iowa. Two of the main characters are also pastors in Iowa. I also spent a lot of time in Iowa City because the Presbytery of East Iowa office was there and I was the Stated Clerk of the presbytery at the time. Robinson lives in Iowa City. Once I read the first book, I was hooked. The writing is beautiful and she evokes scenes of places that I could very easily imagine whether at a church or in a pastor’s home or in the garden.
I am a few pages into the new book which is called Jack. So far, I have been reading a conversation between Jack, the prodigal son in the story, and his friend who is a different race than Jack but is also the child of a pastor. They find that they have a lot in common because of that. Especially in former decades, the manse was often the site of weddings, impromptu pastoral counseling, people in need showing up unannounced at the door, and so on. Children had to be taught to be discreet and spent more time hearing the gospel and eating fried chicken and jello at church than most of their contemporaries.
I ran across a line that made me stop and chuckle. Jack’s father is a Presbyterian minister. His friend’s father is Baptist. They begin to talk about theology a little and the subject of predestination comes up. She says to him that she does not want to dive into the depths of Presbyterianism with him. Ah, the depths of Presbyterianism. What would you say that they are?
I was working with a presbytery in Ohio in a former job that I had. Actually, it was the presbytery that Debbie Rundlett was leaving as she came to Chicago. She asked me to work with the leadership team of the presbytery to help them plan for her departure. I started reminding them about the history and theology of the PCUSA and then realized I was getting some blank stares. So I asked the dozen people in the room how many of them had grown up in the Presbyterian Church. Only four of us in the room had. That is a pretty typical percentage in any PCUSA group. I then asked them what brought them to us. Why did they choose to be a part of the PCUSA? None of them in that room came from no Christian background. Many were from an episcopal background; that is they came from a tradition that has a bishop. Every one of them said they came and stayed because of our polity. 
That was a surprise to me. But then we started talking about how they understood the polity and we were right back to theology. We do not have a bishop because we do not believe that any one human being can as clearly discern the mind of Christ as we can in a group. We have what would in other Christian groups be considered to be members of the laity who have answered the exact same ordination questions as ministers. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We believe that we are the church reformed and always being reformed according to the leading of the Holy Spirit because we believe that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We do our very best when we gather together to do the will of God. We also admit that we are fallible and sometimes get it wrong and need to change. What this group of people liked about our polity was rooted in our theology but they had never put the two things together.
Confidence and humility may be a way to characterize our theology: we believe that we have been called by God and we believe that we often miss the mark of living out that call. In the tumultuous weeks ahead, let us call on our confidence and humility to continue to share hope in the name of Jesus in a world that desperately needs it.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Change from Within

What is the best way to change someone else’s behavior? That is an age-old question, isn’t it?
I remember when I was in seminary the issue of inclusive language was a very hot topic. There were all kinds of studies and resources that showed the image that came to mind when people used terms like “man” or “mankind” to refer to all of humanity. Overwhelmingly, people thought of male human beings. We worked hard to encourage students and faculty alike to be inclusive in their language. In some places in the intervening years, rules have been made for language used in worship or in formal communication in the church so that people were required to use inclusive language. In my experience, it is pretty much the norm now in terms of gender.
There are many other ways, though, that language continues to exclude. The work here is not done. My attitude about all of this when I was in seminary and in the next decade or so when language about gender was a subject for debate was this: I don’t really care whether you think gender neutral language is a good idea or not, I just want you to use it. Some psychologists believe that this is a good way to change people’s attitudes. When their behavior is required to change, then, over time, their attitudes may change as well.
I was reminded about this when I got a cold drink from a coffee shop and was handed a sippy cup. I imagine they have another term for the new lids they use, but this is the only one that comes to my mind. If you have youngsters in your life or if you have been to the Shedd Aquarium in the last few years, then you have probably been told (several times) that you should not use straws. They are a prime example of single use plastic that is choking the oceans and the life that lives in them.
Maybe you carry a metal straw with you. Maybe you have had to force yourself to actually put your lips on a glass in a restaurant (remember going to restaurants??) since we had been trained by them to use straws. The particular coffee shop I went to has, apparently, given up on us making the right decision. They just hand us a cup with a lid on it that does not accommodate a straw and that delivers the beverage in another way. They don’t care what we believe about straws, they are just forcing us to change our behavior. Maybe it will lead us to rethink our attitudes about other single use plastic (like, for instance, the sippy cup lid and the cup to which it is attached!)
We have all observed behavior in the last few months that needs to change whether it involves something as simple as wearing a mask or as deadly as encounters between people who stand on either side of the racial divide in this country. What do you think is the best way to change misguided behavior? Convincing arguments; legislated change; no options except the behavior you favor? All of those work from time and time.
Where does scripture direct us to begin when we know that change is needed? With ourselves. In these troubled and troubling times, when we love to point out the fault in others, fault that is often dangerous and short-sighted, let us also remember the words of the psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” As we strive to bring hope in the name of Jesus, let us do it with humility.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Coping and Praying

As you probably know, my permanent home is in Peoria. Before the pandemic, I drove to Chicago early in the week—usually either very early on a Sunday morning or on Monday morning—and home on Thursday. Recently, I have been driving up and back for one overnight stay a week since I am in zoom meetings whether I am in Chicago or Peoria. My drive is a study in contrasts.
When I leave Peoria, it is often still dark. Mostly what I need to watch for are deer; in fact, one ran into the side of my car in the summer of 2019. I am on two-lane roads, driving through small and tiny towns and, often, watching the sun come up. Peaceful. Then I get to rural interstates, first Interstate 39 and then the more challenging Interstate 80. I think of that portion of the drive as the intermediate challenge. Then I get to the edge of Chicago traffic, usually around Minooka. From then on it is high level, intense driving. You know what that is like.
On my way home it is, of course, the reverse. First the challenge. I have learned to time my leaving to the middle of the day. Otherwise, I just sit on the Stevenson Expressway for a long time. Once I get past Minooka, the traffic kind of sorts itself out and I just have to pass trucks on the interstate and watch out for people who think they are still driving in Chicago! Then, for the last hour, back to the two-lane roads and the deer and, soon, the tractors when harvest begins.
The picture that accompanies this post is a friendly little face that I see in the village of Varna on my way home. This smiling face looks to the north, so it greets me as I make my way through this tiny town with a huge grain elevator. I am glad to see the smiling face because I could have other feelings about Varna. I used to stop at the Casey’s gas station there sometimes so that I did not pull into my driveway on fumes. Used to, that is, until a skimmer on a gas pump there stole my debit card information. I got a call from my bank: “Did you charge gas at Casey’s in Varna at 2:30 and then at Casey’s in (another town) at 2:45 and then at a Casey’s in. . .at 3:06. . . . Uh, no. No, I did not.
Instead of focusing on that as I drive past that Casey’s (it is just out of range of this picture), I focus on this little face. Now, of course, it is not necessarily a smiling face. It is a rusty old garage door. But I choose to think of it as a little smiling face greeting me, apologizing for the bad day I once had in Varna.
How are you managing everything that is happening in the world right now? Are you marching in the streets for racial justice? Are you sitting in the sunshine as much as you can before the cold weather starts? Are you registering people to vote? Are you binge-watching the Great British Baking Show? Are you wearing your mask wherever you go? Are you learning to make sushi? Are you turning a rusty garage door into a smile?
Good for you. I hope however you are coping that you are also praying for justice and peace and wisdom so that justice may roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Let us ground ourselves in whatever way we can to the end that we can continue to share the hope in Jesus Christ that has changed our lives.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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