From Sue is a bi-weekly blog thought written by our Executive Presbyter, Rev. Susan D. Krummel (Sue), and published in our e-newsletter, Presbytery Connect.
 

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
312.488.3015
skrummel@chicagopresbytery.org

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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
312.488.3015
skrummel@chicagopresbytery.org

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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
312.488.3015

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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
312.488.3015
skrummel@chicagopresbytery.org

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Feeling Connected in a Digital World

I have engaged in two new practices in the last several weeks with my family members. One of them is a fantasy football league with my grandchildren and some of their cousins, their dads, and one of their other grandmas. The other is geocaching, which is “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game.” Both of them have changed the way I engage in activities I have participated in for many years.
 
I have been to a lot of football games and watched quite a few on television, although not many professional football games. I am not sure I have ever watched a professional game from beginning to end except sometimes the Super Bowl. But I was in marching band in high school and both of my daughters started cheerleading in junior high. That meant that I “rode the bench” at football games (and basketball games for that matter) for 10 straight years watching them come heat, sleet, rain, snow, and everything in between. I even coached one of my daughter’s cheerleading teams when she was in junior high since there was not a team at her school. I am not a stranger to football games.
 
Geocaching is done outside and our family does it while we are on hikes. We have always hiked a lot in the parks near our house and during the pandemic have found some new ones. Usually, my role on a hike is to say “watch out that is stinging nettle” or “be careful, that is poison ivy” and to be told that I am walking too fast. I am no stranger to walking with purpose through the great outdoors, even if that purpose is just to be sure that I get my steps for the day and to entertain grandchildren away from electronics.
 

But the fantasy football participation and the geocaching have changed the way I engage in both of these activities. I watched a whole professional football game from beginning to end last Sunday. I cheered for players on both teams since they were each on my fantasy team. When the weekend was over, I could celebrate beating my grandchildren’s ten-year-old cousin whom I have only met a few times! We also went on a hike with family and looked for geocaches that were along the paths in the park where we were. It gave us goals that we had not had before when walking along those same paths. Both activities make me feel more connected to the game or the hike and have increased my enjoyment of activities in which I have engaged habitually for a long time. These activities are new to me; they add goals to activities for which I did not have personal goals attached in the same way as before.

I have been wondering how we could add this sense of feeling more connected to our zoom meetings for church and work and to our worship and Bible studies together. I know that some people are planting “Easter eggs” on the bookshelves or other household items behind them when they are onscreen. (That’s another new term for me, “a message, image, or feature hidden in a video game, film, or other electronic medium.”) It is kind of like product placement in a movie but without the mercenary intent. What are the “Easter eggs” that you could use in your worship or meeting to enhance and deepen the experience? Could you ask worshipers to watch for certain items that are connected to the message so that they feel more connected to worship even when you are not in person? What other ways have you thought about to help people to engage meaningfully and creatively by feeling that they are participating in worship or study or a meeting in a new way?

 
The medium for our interactions has changed so much and the novelty of feeling like the Jetsons may be wearing off (I will let you look up the Jetsons on your own.) It is still incumbent on us as leaders to find ways to invite people into the mystery and joy of the work we do together and the worship of God so that we can be reminded of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312.488.3015
 

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How About Looting Our Churches?

I saw an interesting news article recently about a business that is based near Kenosha, Wisconsin. The business is called “Penzeys Spices” and the owner of the business also lives there. You may be familiar with this store since they have shops in the Chicago area. I had never heard of it until I was in Chicago about 10 years ago with a good friend. I did not know the area as well as I do now, but I think we were at the store in Naperville. Then when I worked in Louisville for a few years, she would sometimes give me a list of things to pick up for her at the store there since there is not one in Peoria. I did not know anything about the owner of the business.
 
Now I have learned that he has taken a firm anti-racist stand in public statements. In the last week, with so much unrest and with businesses in Kenosha being broken into, someone wrote to Bill Penzey suggesting that he might not have the same attitude if it was his store that was being looted. His reaction? “What if we looted our own store?” They did an inventory of the Kenosha store. They are asking their customers to suggest food pantries and other agencies that are raising money to fund change. They will then donate the same inventory that is in their Kenosha store to these entities so that they can work toward change in their communities.
 
It made me think about what we have inside most churches. Having been a pastor and, especially, an interim pastor who stressed about getting rid of the clutter and the items we were not using in a church building, I have looked into a lot of nooks and crannies. I know that most churches are “holding hostage” a lot of material that could be put to good use.
 
Do you have lots of books and unused curriculum in your building? How could you get those books into the hands of people who will actually use them or donate to them to an organization that can sell them to provide money for the good work they are doing?
 
Do you have a kitchen full of dishes and pots and pans and utensils that have sat idle for some time or that you know you will not be using in the same way you once did? What about providing them to a place like Facing Forward to End Homelessness or a similar group? All of those dishes that just weigh down your cupboards could be used by individuals and families starting out in their first home as they leave behind their shelter insecurity.
 
Are there toys (that are still safe and usable) in a Sunday School room or nursery that are sitting idle? What group in your neighborhood could put them to good use in the ministry and mission that they do?
 
What else can you think of that is locked up in your church building but could be put to better use by those who are making a difference in people’s lives every day?
 
The circumstances in which we do ministry and call for justice are different for us as we do not meet together in the same way we did a year ago. But the call to do justice and to love kindess and to walk humbly with God has not changed. How can you use what is sitting idle in your church building to bring hope in the name of Jesus Christ?
 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312.488.3015

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Summer Reading and Racism

What have you been reading this summer? In almost every group of which I am a part, people are reading books about the history of race in this country and the way that history has brought us to the events of 2020.
 
For instance, I am in a small book club in Peoria with my daughter, who lives here. We have met twice this summer sitting far apart from each other in a backyard. There are several sets of mothers and daughters; most of the women are neighbors, and most attend Roman Catholic churches here. The other night, one of them invited all of us to the online study her church is having on the book “White Fragility.” The church my husband serves has a group led by a member of the church that usually meets in a brewery. During the pandemic, they are meeting online. The young elder who is leading the group chose “How to Be An Antiracist” to study for the last several weeks.
 
In every committee meeting of which I have been a part in the presbytery these last several weeks, the committee members have talked informally about similar studies in their congregations. And the committees have talked among themselves about their committee work and how it can address racism. I will soon be part of a study of the book “White Too Long” that will be led by my colleague in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery for Presbytery and Synod leaders from around the country.
 
I will get to that book once I finish “How to Be An Antiracist.” I find the style used by the author of this book, Ibram X. Kendi, to be very compelling. He uses stories from his own life to reflect the arc of the discussion of race in this country. It has made me think about how I was taught about race as I was growing up, albeit in a very different place and time and in very different circumstances from his.
 
Rosa Parks staged her protest on a bus in Alabama when I was six weeks old. By the time I was in grade school a decade later, her act of bravery and political action was a part of the discussion of “current events” both at school and in the media. Wherever I first heard about her and in most of the subsequent discussions in which I heard about her act, it was presented in this way: Ms. Parks worked hard all day and was tired. She sat down in the first available seat on the bus and then when she was told to move, she was just too tired to do so.
 
Is that the way you also learned this piece of history? It was not until sometime in the last decade that I learned that was not the case at all. She may have been tired, but what she was tired of was racism. She was a civil rights activist and she and other leaders decided that she would be the one to take this action and force those in Montgomery and across the country to address the racism that pervades our culture. I imagined that schools were probably now teaching the truth of her act of courage.
 
I was surprised, then, when I was talking with my grandson a few weeks ago and the subject of Ms. Parks came up. I asked if he knew who she was. He said, “Wasn’t she the one who was tired and sat down on the bus?” I was astounded and quickly told him what I knew of the real story and told him he should look it up to see what the facts of the matter are. I could not believe that schools and the biographies created for children that he enjoyed when he was younger were still telling the story the same way I learned it 50 years ago.
 
As you have continued your own examination of race in this country or started that examination in a deeper way this summer, what have you learned that disabuses you of the “facts” that you were taught? How have you come to understand your own place in the racial history of this country in a different or deeper way? And, if you have not been studying the literature (books, podcasts, television offerings, etc.) that will further your understanding, what are you waiting for? There are opportunities everywhere for you to think more deeply about this topic and to see how our call to bring hope in the name of Jesus impels us to change.
 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312.488.3015
skrummel@chicagopresbytery.org

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Life Lessons and God

We have entered one of my least favorite seasons of gardening—watering. It has not rained in my garden for a week and there is no prediction of rain for at least another week. I have perennials and they are pretty hardy, but even they need a drink of water once in a while. The water from the tap is not really that good for plants, what with the added chemicals and so on, but it is better than nothing. I hate having to drag the hose around. It always seems to get its muddy underside on my clothes. The only creatures that are happy about the sprinkler are the birds who take a bath in the unexpected shower.
 
Today, while I was moving the hose as carefully as I could, I knocked off these pink hydrangea blossoms. They will only survive in this dish of water until our kitten finds them, but at least I am trying to give them a little more life. As I brought them inside, I was reminded of an incident from my childhood.
 
We had one of those mean next-door neighbors that you might have had growing up. If the ball went into her yard, we were not allowed to go get it. She had some lilac bushes beside her house that were beautiful in early spring. They were loaded with blossoms every year. We were under strict orders from her not to pick any of the flowers or even to touch them. One day, I could not resist. I think I must have been about five years old. I made sure no one was watching and snatched a blossom. I immediately felt guilty and ran into my house and hid behind the bed with the flowers clutched in my fist. My mom knew something was very wrong and followed me into my room.
 
Now, my mom was a school teacher, team leader of the Language Arts Department at a high school, and an elementary school principal. She was a good and tough teacher. She taught at the same school I attended for a couple of years. One day I was standing at the drinking fountain at recess behind a couple of students from her class who were complaining about Mrs. Davis making them diagram sentences. They were a little surprised when they turned around and saw I had overheard them. I saw her wash out my little brother’s mouth with soap a few times—you know, that kind of mom. So I did not know what to expect.
 
What she did was talk very quietly to me as I was now hysterically crying and help me to calm down. I think I kind of blurted out what I had done, with the evidence still clenched in my fist. She asked me to open my hand and show her the flowers. She told me that now that we were in this situation we should not waste the beauty of the flowers. We found a dish (like the one in this picture I imagine) and floated the lilacs in it so we could at least enjoy their beauty. I am pretty sure I was also made to go over and apologize to the scary lady next door; I think my mom went with me. That part is not as vivid in my memory as is the gentle way my mom addressed my transgression.
 
I think it has influenced the way I understand our relationship with God. “It was wrong. You must apologize. And let’s see what we can do with these broken pieces with which we are left.” She is also the one who had the little saying on her desk that has informed my faith and my ministry: “What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God.”
 
The parental or authority figures in our early life help to form our understanding of who God is. I hope that you, also, had someone whose interactions with you helped you to form a solid foundation on which to build your faith so that you can celebrate hope and the promise of hope even in frightening and seemingly hopeless situations.
 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago
312.488.3015

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