Presbyterians and Politics


Note: At this summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the following statement was passed.

“No congregation, session, presbytery, synod, or national office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), nor any individual acting on behalf of or in an official capacity for the above institutions, shall publicly endorse or oppose, or otherwise encourage or discourage others to vote for or against an individual running for public office.”

This will go to our regional bodies, and if passed by a majority of them, would become part of our constitution.


One of the hardest things about becoming an ordained minister was giving up politics.

I worked on my first political campaign when I was 18, and then majored in political science in college.  After graduating I kept up with local campaigns and was considered a “super voter,” which meant that I voted in almost every election, including local primaries. I attended city council and county commission meetings and was on a first name basis with many elected officials. Come election time I would get a phone calls from friends asking me for advice on how to vote in local elections. “I don’t know who any of these people are,” my friends would say. “Who should I vote for?”

And then I entered seminary, was ordained, and I put my political activity behind me. I did that for a variety of reasons. There was the Johnson Amendment, which states that a church (or any non-profit) that gets involved in partisan political activities will lose their tax-exempt status. But that was only the background reason. Most of the congregations I serve reflected a very diverse political spectrum, and if I jumped in on any side I could have destroyed the equilibrium they had carefully created. There is no reason to create a problem with people who don’t have one. The most important, however, is that I did not see the pulpit as a place to push a partisan political agenda. Preaching is an awesome task, and should represent what I thought was God’s will for the people, not my opinions.

In 2005 I left parish ministry to become a hospital chaplain, which gave me the freedom to jump back in the partisan fray. I changed my voter registration from independent to Democratic, attended the 2008 presidential caucuses in Alaska, and became a delegate to the state convention. In 2010 I was offered a job working for an Alaska senator, and became an aide to the Alaska Senate Education Committee. For three years I wrote and managed bills, and did constituent work for Senator Joe Thomas. I met and married a woman who worked on several statewide campaigns, and our wedding was one of the political event of the season. We even got a letter from President Barack Obama congratulating us on our marriage.

I was considering a run for local office when it became clear to me that I was being called back into ministry. So, when I stepped back into ordained ministry in 2013, I once again put all political activity on the back shelf.

These last two years have been very hard.

If ever I have been tempted to endorse a candidate from the pulpit, it has been this year, although to be honest, I would not have endorsed a candidate, I would have spoken against one. And therein lies the problem of endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Having worked in and around politics I can say with authority that I have yet to meet God’s man or woman for office. I have met dedicated Christians (on both sides of the aisle) who have been great politicians, and dedicated Christians, (on both sides of the aisle) who were lousy politicians. To put a finer point on it, most of the Christians I worked with were both great and lousy, depending on the issues at hand.  And I have worked with politicians who had little or no faith commitment, who were sharp on the political front.

In other words, a person’s commitment to Christ is no reason for me to endorse or even vote for a person, as many evangelical Christians discovered in the last presidential election. A person’s religion or lack thereof should not be the deciding factor in how we vote. That our current president seems to have a total lack of Christian values is irrelevant to me.

When I stand up in the pulpit and say things, I hope and pray I am representing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not my own political or social opinions. At no point in my career as a minister or a political aide have I felt that the pulpit was the place for partisan politics.

So you might think I would support the recent overture voted on by our General Assembly to limit political speech by pastors, or anyone else who represents the Presbyterian Church. I do not. What a pastor says from the pulpit is between them and God (and in the case of political endorsements, the IRS.) At no point should we do anything to limit what is said from the pulpits of our churches. That is as a political as making endorsements.

There have been times in our history when it was right and appropriate to speak out on political issues. When good people do nothing, evil can triumph. The problem is we can only see those times clearly in retrospect. When we are in the thick of political turmoil, it is often hard to navigate right and wrong. Remember, a majority of Americans opposed the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his lifetime.

While I do not ever see myself making an endorsement, I can see the possibility of speaking against a candidate. While no candidate, I believe can ever wear the mantle of God’s favorite, some come really close to wearing the garments of disfavor–close enough that I would feel compelled to speak out. Were I to do so, I would be crossing a line I set for myself years ago, a line that has been reinforced through 22 years of ordained ministry. I would never cross that line lightly. But if I did, I would hope that I had, if at least not the favor of my denomination, at least not their condemnation.


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City of Dreams or Nothing New Under the Sun


William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Watching the various incidents concerning immigrants in America has driven that home.

I have been reading Tyler Anbinder’s massive book, City of Dreams in my free time. It weighs in at 735 pages, including 156 pages of footnotes, and recounts immigration to New York City from the time of the Dutch settlers to the 20th century. It is for the most part a social history, giving us a front row seat to the massive waves of immigrants, their living and working conditions, and the consistent wave of backlash against the people who come to America looking for a fresh start.

Anbinder starts his book with the story of Annie Moore, the first person to go through Ellis Island and ends with predictions about future immigration to NYC and its suburbs. He shows us where the lived, and which types of job tended to attract which kinds of immigrants, from Irish bartenders to Greek deli owners.

A few things have remained constant over the years. Immigrants were always at best tolerated, and at worst were on the receiving ends of all kinds of discrimination. Countless times the backlash against immigrants turned violent. With every new wave, from the English to the Dutch colonies up to today’s newcomers, there have been no shortage of people who were afraid these new arrivals would upset their apple carts.

I think of this as I see videos of random idiots screaming at people who were not born in this country–a man yelling at a woman wearing a “Puerto Rico t-shirt, a woman berating a Muslim woman, telling her ICE will come get her children, a customer in a coffee shop suddenly going postal about the Hispanic man in line behind him, not to mention tearing Central American parents away from their children (and then losing track of them).

One other thing remains as a constant; the people who come to this country work hard to make a life for themselves here. It is clear from reading City of Dreams that New York City would not be the place we know it as today were it not for those who made long, and sometimes dangerous journeys to get here. Anbinder does not pass easily over the problems that have resulted from immigrants, but he also vividly shows how they improve the brave, new world they have entered.

If you want a good handle on the overall story of immigrants to America, I highly recommend this book!



A map showing immigrant patterns in lower Manhattan based on the 1860 census. Notice that there is only one small area of “Majority born in the U.S. 

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Grilled Lime Chicken On A Bed of Lemons


This is my new favorite way to grill chicken and fish! It keeps the meat so moist, it doesn’t burn, you get a great lemon flavor, the lemons smell awesome when they start getting hot, and you literally do nothing once you put the lid on.

I made a pretty simple marinade for this chicken

  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Chilli powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 Garlic Clove Minced
  • Oil – About a 1/8 of a cup
  • 2 Small Juiced Limes

Combine all that stuff into a bowl and add in about 2 lbs of boneless chicken breasts. Mix it up and throw it in the fridge for about 2 hours.

After about a hour, go out and start that grill cooking.

While that is going, slice your lemons about a 1/8″ thick. I used 7 lemons for this.

Once the coals are ready, put them to one side of…

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Calmed, Healed, Sent


wholeearthJust seeing it on the shelf at the library unleashed a flood of memories. The Next Whole Earth Catalog. It threw me 44 years into the past, when I bought The Last Whole Earth Catalog on a whim from the bookstore that was just across from the ice cream parlor where I worked. It was a game changer for me. If you don’t know about the Whole Earth Catalog, it was a Sears and Roebucks for the counter culture of the Sixties and Seventies. A lot of the stuff in it had generic appeal, but it was also where you could learn about home births, radical comics, native American lore, hitch-hiking across the USA, and my favorite, all you needed to live off the land, without having to be dependent on the society around you.

I think that appealed to the fifteen-year old in my because I wanted to be independent. I was living in my parents’ house, under the roof and under their rules. And the Whole Earth Catalog was my dream maker. Just as when I was a kid thumbing through the Sears catalog at Christmas hoping for really great gifts from Santa, I would turn page after page, dreaming of a life where I was the one in charge.

Not long after that my parents had one of those “Now-that-you-are-turning-sixteen-what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life?” talks.  I may have told you this story before, but it is one of those pivotal stories on my life. I told exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to move to the mountains and live off the land. I wanted to find a commune and join others in living off the land. I was going to keep rabbits for fertilizers, goats for milk, grow my own food, make my own furniture, generally be free of society. Except for the people in the commune, and I knew that we would all be so cool, we just would not need anyone else in our lives. Sigh. The mind of a fifteen-year old. Never mind the fact that I hated gardening, wasn’t that good with tools, didn’t like cow’s milk or vegetables all that much.

My parents wisely overlooked the gross inconsistencies of my dream. My father just said, “Well, if you want to, I can send you to one of my uncles. They own farms, and you can spend the summer working for them.” I had seen those farms and they were the last place I wanted to spend a summer. My mother simply said, “Who is that going to help?”  As I remember it, that is all she said. “Who is that going to help?”

What I got from that was that I was not here just to please myself. I was put here for others as well. I was fortunate to have all the advantages of a good life. But the point of my life was not just to enjoy the good fortune I had. It was also to help others who were not as fortunate. None of us are here solely for our own amusement. We were all here to help others.

78138760df3bbaf26a61ebf5069211eeLater I would read, in The Whole Earth Catalog, a quote from Buckminster Fuller, one of their leading visionaries: You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. The significance of you will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume you are fulfilling your significance if you apply yourself to converting all you experience to highest advantage to others.


Two weeks I ago I said we were the calm place in the storm. Because of our faith in Christ, we know that he is more powerful than the storm, and depending on him, we do not have to fear the winds and rains of life. Last week I said we are the healing place, the place where people can come and experience the healing touch of Jesus. All of that takes place in the context of these walls, and within the context of our community here.

I did not preach on those topics because I felt we were steeped in turmoil, or an unhealthy congregation. I preached them to name what we are: calm in the storm, and a healing place. I preached them to encourage to continue on the path we are on, and to do an even better job of both. But both of the last two sermons focused on us—our life here, our spiritual community.

But this week’s text takes us to a different place. Or I should say, it sends us to a different place.

Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. Jesus did not come to start a commune. He did not call his disciples, and then buy some land, put up fences, and all groove together in harmony. Jesus never knew a wall in his life. Yes, he did form a community—the church—which should be able to exhibit to the world what it means to love your neighbor, but the church was never meant to have a wall around it. Nor were its members meant to stay within the community. The community was where they recharged their emotional and spiritual batteries. But they were sent out into the world.

And it says that Jesus gave them “authority over unclean spirits.” Now we can take that to mean that they could cast out demons, but if we look at it in a less literal way, Jesus is giving them the authority to attack, in the words of people who might have been heavily influenced by the Whole Earth Catalog, all the bad karma out there, all the negative waves.

When I was in college a group of us decided to play a joke on a friend of ours. Everyone who saw Barbara the next day would say something to her like, “Are you feeling ok? You look a bit peaked.” Most of us saw her the next day, and when I went to see her that night to tell her about the joke, she was sick in bed. I never realized how much we could affect people with our words. Now if that can happen, so can the opposite. Instead of gloom and doom, we can bring the hope of Jesus Christ to the lives of the people we see every day. Instead of strife and opposition we can bring reconciliation and peace. Instead of the steady stream of dehumanizing stabs we suffer on a daily basis, we can open our arms and hearts to people, treating them like children of God, whether they know they are or not. Those are the evil spirits of the day that we battle.


However I need to warn you that this passage starts with a warning. Jesus goes back to his home town, and he does not exactly come home as the favorite son of the community. In fact they basically said, “Look at Joe’s boy! It seems he has gotten a bit too big for his britches. Listen to him talking all high and mighty like that. He can’t tell us anything. We knew him when he was just a pup. He ain’t nothing.”

And then Mark tells us, “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” And a few sentences later, Jesus is sending the disciples and he tells them, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

The lack of faith in the people can limit what Jesus and his disciples are able do. May that never be said of us. Never.

Nor let it be said that anyone’s disbelief ever affected our efforts. Not everyone will want what we got. Not everyone will be able to accept it. That’s OK. Jesus says, “Don’t let that get to you. Shake it off and move on. If this village is not open to the love of God, there are plenty out there that are open, and that need it. But don’t carry their rejection around as if it were YOUR failure. You don’t even have to get angry at them. Just shake the dust off your feet and move on.”


I preached the last two sermons, more to hold a mirror up for you, so we could see who we are in the eyes of God. I hope that as I was talking about being the calm in the storm, or being a healing place, you could see how we are those things, and how we are growing more into being better at those things.

The same is true of this sermon. I hope that as I was talking about Jesus sending us, you were seeing Wednesday Night Live, or the Food Bank, or Graceworks, or the sack lunch program. I hope you were thinking about all the people we help here, about how we are open to all people, not just people who look like us. I hope you were seeing in your mind’s eye, that we are a community that is sent out into the world.

Jesus sends us to serve others, just as he has served us. There are a hundred different ways we could spend our time and energy serving others. Every day we encounter different needs, different opportunities for service, different ways we can love our neighbors. I remember when some Russian priests visited Fairbanks. For most of them it was their first time in America. One of the priests wanted some cold cereal (which, coincidently, is the food of the month), so I took him to Fred Meyers to get some. He stood in the cereal aisle for about ten minutes, paralyzed by the choices he had.

I feel that way when I walk the streets of Medford. We could do this! We could do that! A shelter! A soup kitchen! Support Groups! Addiction issues! Health care! Outreach to millennials! Stop Gun violence! Refugees! Global Warming! We could focus on a different social issue every week of the year, and have plenty to go for next year. So how do we choose?

sentI have only one answer. We do what Jesus sends us to do. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

Now what Jesus sends us to do will be qualified by more than a couple of things. First and foremost, whatever we do must stem from the teachings of Jesus. You cannot be doing the work of Jesus if you are acting out of hate or fear. The work of Jesus is all about faith and love.

Second, it is what Jesus sends us to do, not what Jesus our neighbors to do. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors’ calling, even if it is cooler than yours.

Third, we must react to what burns in our hearts. What keeps you up at nights? When you see the news and hear yourself saying, “Someone ought to do something about that!” you may have just stumbled onto what God is calling you to do.

Fourth, you go through the doors that God opens for you. God will not call you to do something and then let you beat your head against a locked door. I’m not saying it will always be easy, but nor will it be impossible.

Finally, there will be other brothers and sisters in the faith who will support you. Odds are you will not find yourself all alone if you are doing what Jesus is calling you to do. That is not always the case. There are times when you stand for Jesus and you standing only with Jesus. But for the most part if God is calling you to something you will find other people who are called to the same thing.

Faith is the only treasure that increases as you give it away. Jesus sends us out so that we can experience the treasure we have in serving him.  The disciples, after they were sent, came back rejoicing. They had authority over evil spirits and they could heal. If you think of the evil spirits that Mark is talking about as the storms of life, then they did exactly what we have been talking about for the last two weeks—providing calm in the storm, and a healing place.

That we are this kind of place is commendable—but only to the extent that we share it. Jesus said we were the Light of the World, and that you don’t light a light and then cover it with a sack. You let that light shine. To have a healing and calming community and keep it to yourself is not what Jesus would have us to do. After all, it’s not our community, although we are all part of it. It is his community. So let us share the good gifts that God has given us.



Mark 6:1-13

1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


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Act One

Roseanne and Repentance

After flinging a racist tweet into the netsphere, Roseanne Barr wants to take it all back. In case you are one of the few people who have not heard about the controversy, she tweeted that former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett looked like the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.” In the day and half after the tweet she blamed the sleep drug Ambien for her tweet, said she was an idiot, tweeted a picture of Jarrett beside a picture of an ape, posted tweets from her supporters and threw herself on her sword. “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.”

The “joke” was in very bad taste, but Roseanne is not the first, nor will she be the last person to insult through drive-by tweeting. It happens with less famous people every day.

She asked for forgiveness. Should she get it? If so, when? Can a person ever be forgiven for their wrongdoing? What does it mean for her to repent? What would she have to do to prove that she is a “changed person,” and not just someone who got caught.

Before you answer that question, take a moment and think about a time you hurt someone. Did you want forgiveness? If you were forgiven, did you deserve it? If you weren’t forgiven, do you think the people who held back forgiveness did the right thing?

This is a tricky subject, and especially so for many people of faith for whom forgiveness is part of the way they relate to God and other people.

How do we get a handle on it? When should forgiveness be offered and when should it be withheld? If repentance is part of the process (and it really should be) what does that look like?

Considering the growing influence of the #MeToo movement, this becomes doubly important. While we might not want to create a caste system, with sexual offenders being the new untouchables, we certainly don’t want to excuse actions that damaged people. How do we thread this needle?

To get a handle on the issues, let’s take a look at two events. First, what happened with the president of a Southern Baptist seminary, and second, the story of a female rocker who was part of the Richmond, Virginia punk scene.


Act Two

Another One Bites the Dust

Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was ousted May 23 by the Board of Trustees of the seminary. The announcement was done quietly as possible. Patterson was removed as president and named President Emeritus and Theologian in Residence. Along with the title he was given a physical residence, and now lives in housing provided by the seminary.

This announcement is strikingly different from other recent actions sparked by the growing #MeToo movement.  Patterson is NOT accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or having an illicit sexual encounter. His transgressions were more subtle.

In a 2014 sermon he said that women were created by God “beautifully and artistically.” A little strange maybe, not certainly not a fire-able offense. But then he went on to add a story about a conversation he had with a woman while her son and one of his friends were standing nearby. A female student walked by and the friend said, “Boy is she built.” The woman scolded the student, but Patterson intervened and told the woman (and these are his own words from the sermon) “Ma’am, leave him alone. He’s just being biblical. That is exactly what the Bible says.”

I am pretty sure that is NOT what the Bible says. Perhaps Patterson forgot the part where Jesus tells his followers if they look upon a woman with lust they have committed adultery in their hearts.

But the story does not end there.

In 2000 Patterson spoke at a conference, where he told the participants that abused women should not file for divorce.He stated he had never counseled a woman to divorce her abusive husband, although in some circumstances he recommended a temporary separation. Instead they should pray for their husbands, and be submissive “in every way you can.” Patterson recounts a story where he told a woman to pray for her abusive husband, but warned her that might set her husband off again. It did. She came to church with two black eyes one Sunday morning, and said, “I hope you’re happy.” As Patterson recounts the story, “I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I am happy.’ What she didn’t know when we sat in church that morning, was that her husband had come in and was standing in back, first time he ever came.”

Apparently for Patterson, its admissible for man to beat his wife, as long as that brings him to church the following Sunday.

The story gets even worse. While he was President of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, a female student came to the administration of the seminary charging a fellow student with rape. As she recounts the story to the Washington Post, it was a date rape incident.  A meeting was set up with Patterson and four other people who peppered her with specific questions concerning the rape. At the end of the interview she was told, by Patterson, not to report the rape, and school officials did not report it to the local police.

Patterson told her she should forgive her rapist instead of reporting it. (Think about this–the man is probably a minister in a Southern Baptist Church right now.)

Act Three

Sins of Omission

Patterson was called into account, not because he had committed sins of commission, but because he brushed the sins of others under the carpet. This takes us to a new level of accountability. It was Patterson’s sexual attitudes, not his sexual activity, his inaction, not his actions that came back to bite him. No one is saying he harassed them, no one is accusing him of improper sexual relationships. His “good old boy” attitude concerning sexual roles and behavior was the impetus that sparked his vocation implosion. If men act improperly, well, that is to be expected, because “boys will be boys.” Women are just supposed to suck it up, forgive, and forget. A young man who turns women into sexual objects is just acting according the nature God gave him.  A husband who gives his wife two black eyes has committed a minor pecadillo, which should be seen as a call to prayer, not a call to the police or social services. A man who rapes his date should be forgiven, not prosecuted, so his path to pastoral ministry should not be impeded by unnecessary legal complications.

I wonder how Patterson would have responded if a male student gave one of his professors two black eyes, or if it had been a male student who was raped by another man. I seriously doubt the response would have been a call to prayer and forgiveness. But because these incidents all happened to women, they were considered trivial and the men were excused from their bad behavior.

Until now.

The #MeToo movement has changed the landscape in more ways than were imagined. As a first step, women can tell their stories of harassment and abuse and there is a much better chance they will be taken seriously. They are less likely to be automatically disbelieved, or dismissed when believable. (At least that is true for some women. There are surely workplaces, schools, churches and the like that have not caught up with the times, but the tide is certainly changing.)

Patterson’s ouster now plants a flag firmly on the second step–it is no longer acceptable to be indirectly complicit. Even though he was innocent of overt harassment,  he did not condemn those who were, and for that he lost his position as president of the seminary.

There are those who felt Patterson’s ouster went too far, that this is a case of political correctness gone berserk. “Because Dr. Patterson has not said some things exactly right in our extra sensitive climate, he is being condemned by his enemies,” said one of his supporters in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Who of us could withstand withering criticism and publicity of any misstatements we have made over the last several decades? Who of us could withstand having our statements taken in the absolutely worst light?”

Dr. Patterson “has not said some thing exactly right”? Telling a woman who had been abused to go back to her abuser, telling a woman who was raped she should simply forgive the man who assaulted her is not a misstatement–it is a severe misdeed for someone in authority, an oppressive sin of omission. This is not a case of overzealous “political correctness,” but of under-zealous enforcement of a safe environment for women.

It is encouraging that more than a thousand people e-signed a letter demanding his removal, and most of them were Southern Baptists. The letter says, “This pattern of discourse is unbefitting the sober, wise, and sound character required of an elder, pastor, and leader. It fails in the call to protect the helpless, the call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the biblical standard of sexual purity. These comments are damaging, sinful, and necessitate a decisive response.”

There was a response, but at first it was not exactly decisive. While Patterson lost his position as president, originally he was going to be be able to keep his income, and was going to be given a place to live. He was  going to be quietly put out to pasture as a theologian-in-residence. But the seminary did an about face recently, and essentially fired him, as any other employee would be fired.

Had been able to function as a theologian-in-residence, I wonder what kind of theology he would be pondering.

Act Four


crucifixion-1749008_1280There’s another aspect to the story that raises some important issues for Christians who are supportive of the #MeToo movement–forgiveness. Patterson urged people to forgive those who had trespassed against them.  What is so wrong about that? After all, the carpenter who founded Christianity forgave the people who killed him as they were killing him. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith. Those who are forgiven by God, are in turn are called to forgive others. Millions of Christian pray every week, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” or as they say in the Presbyterian church, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In other words every week Christians pray and ask God to forgive them only to the extent that they are able to forgive other people. No forgiveness given, no forgiveness received.

So what was it that Patterson did that was so bad? He urged one woman to forgive her rapist, and another to forgive her abusive husband. He is just telling them to be good Christians, right?

At heart the problem her is that the Church has an impoverished understanding of forgiveness, one that has been transmitted to the culture at large.

I was a whole three months into pastoral ministry when my neighbor, who had previously made it clear to me that she was not in any way religious, came to me for advice. She had been hurt by her partner. The hurt was deep, and was inflicted at a particularly sensitive time in this person’s life–while she was dealing with the death of her father, which had led to her coming out to her family. “Usually when stuff happens to me, I can just forgive them and move on,” she told me. “But this time is different. She really hurt me. I can’t let go of it. I can’t forgive her.”

“In the past,” I said, “you didn’t really have to forgive anyone. You could just brush it off and move on. That’s not forgiveness. That’s just not letting little things bother you. But this time you were really hurt, and forgiveness is going to be a lot harder.”

I couldn’t tell her to just forgive her partner and move on. She was not ready for that. She was still deep into the territory of her pain, and could not see her way out.

Too often forgiveness seems to mean that we try to minimize the hurt and then move on. It is one thing to forgive someone who has taken your parking place at the grocery store, or said something bad about you behind your back. It is quite another thing to forgive someone who has run the knife deep in your gut. Forgiving someone who has given you two black eyes, or who has raped you is a totally different situation.

Forgiveness does not mean we just forget about it, and move on like it never happened. That is, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace.”

My neighbor was eventually able to forgive the women who hurt her, but that only came after she had worked through the issues that led to her pain. During one of our talks I asked her if her relationship with her partner had been a healthy relationship. She hesitated a long time before answering, and finally said, “I have no idea what a healthy relationship is.” This is not to say she was at blame for her pain, but if she was going to get anything out of the process of forgiveness, she had to find a way to make sure that kind of pain did not visit her again.

Two months later she came knocking at my door. “I have a new girlfriend,” she said. “And it’s healthy!” It was from this new vantage point that she was ready to try forgiveness. Now she really could move past the pain.

Patterson was not advocating forgiveness. He might have used the word, but he was really  asking the women to justify the sin of their attackers by accepting their actions, and then acting as if the sins had not happened. He was trying to brush things under the rug, not make a place for forgiveness to happen.

He failed miserably. Instead of offering forgiveness as a process that could enhance healing, he short circuited it by portraying it as cheap and easy–just forgive your rapist, just forgive your abuser. Brushing sin under the carpet is not forgiveness. Forgiveness, real forgiveness, changes people. It changes the forgiver by having them realistically assess the pain they have received, and what they will do with that pain. It can change the person who needs to be forgiven by confronting them with their transgressions, and encouraging them to deal with the consequences of what they have done.

Act Five

Call Out

gig-3518406_1280A recent episode on NPR’s Invisibilia, focusing on the Call Out process in Richmond, Virginia’s punk rock scene, is good illustration of why we might need forgiveness and possibly even redemption as a part of the #MeToo movement. In the story we learn that a person is called out when they have violated community norms, especially norms surrounding sexual harassment and assault. (Who knew the Punk Rock scene would be ahead of the country on this?) This episode followed the story of Emily, a young woman who grew tired of the misogyny she had experienced by her fellow punk rockers. She started her own band, which had a decided feminist bent, and participated in several initial call outs of men who had behaved  inappropriately with others, including a fellow punker who had sexually molested her. When someone is called out, they are shunned and isolated. They are no longer allowed to participate in the scene. They are banned from concerts and all social events. No one else in the scene will talk to them.

A pivotal point for Emily was when one of her good friends was called out. On the one hand she had a big part in forming the call-out culture. On the other, this was her best friend. In the end she participated in the call out, and shunned her friend. She felt bad about it, but what could else she do?

Then Emily herself was called out. It turns out that in high school (at the time of the story Emily is in her mid-twenties) she posted nude pics of another girl without her permission. She had routinely slut-shamed other girls on-line, and was, in her own words, something of a bully. She was tried and convicted in a process she helped invent.

She lost everything. Her friends avoided her, her band fired her, and her whole social scene was now off limits. “I just feel like I’m in a limbo,” she said.”It consumes me. I lay awake. And I’m like… this is my life now. Nobody’s around. I have nobody to talk to.”

Here’s where the story gets even more interesting.

Herbert was the man who launched her call out. He knew of her high school bullying, but for him there was more to it than that. She insulted him personally. After Herbert initially called her out, Emily went to confront him. In Herbert’s memory, Emily told him she was surprised at the call out because it happened so long ago, and she also said that she was nice to him because he was a person of color. Emily remembers that encounter differently, but the damage was done. Because of what she said to Herbert that day, he felt she deserved to suffer, and suffer hard. When Herbert was asked if his reaction was harsh, he agreed it was.  “I knew that this was, like…a very harsh way to, like…take someone by the shoulders and just put them underwater.” Later in the interview he likens his feelings about the power he welded in the call out to ejaculating. He said he was getting high off of it. And he felt bad about that. But not enough to lay off her.

It was for Emily’s own good, he said. “I’m super comfortable with the harsh because I want her to learn from this. If you’re trying to progress, you’re going to hurt people along the way.” If the punk scene in Richmond was going to progress, people like Emily had to be hurt along the way.

If the #MeToo movement is successful, if it is going to be possible for women to live and work without fear of being harassed and assaulted, people will be hurt along the way. Men who abuse their power in the workplace may see their careers go down in flames. Men who sexually assault women may spend time in jail, and some for a very long time. If things are going to get better for people who have had the fuzzy end of the lollipop for most of their lives, they are going to get worse for those who shoved that end in their faces.

But going back to the question I raised with Roseanne–what if they repent? What if they beg for forgiveness, pleading that they are changed people?

The problem that Emily faced was, when and how can people know she learned her lesson? When can she be forgiven for what she did as a teenager? Could she ever be fully integrated back into the punk rock scene? How would it be possible for Herbert to forgive her? Could she ever forgive the man who was once her best friend? All those questions are still left open.

The story ended with Emily slowly working her way back into the scene, but only marginally. She was not allowed in shows, but she could sell tickets, outside the venue. Most people still shunned her though, and she felt very, very alone.

Act Six

Step Three

If the first step of the #Me Too movement is calling out sexual predators, and the second is calling out those complicit in the behavior, can the third step be repentance, forgiveness and possibly reconciliation? (For those who are turned off by the language, we are talking about true regret and change, mercy, and settlement.)

If that is going to happen then we have to do away with the flimsy form of forgiveness offered by churches that are more interested in moving on than on affecting real change. We have to disabuse ourselves of the idea that forgiveness is quick and easy, cheap grace, where all is forgotten, whether the offender has learned their lessons or not. Can we start thinking of ways to bring redeemed sinners back into the fold?

This is incredibly dangerous territory. Hearing Emily’s story, I feel reasonably sure she has learned her lesson, and the slut-shaming of her past is lodged firmly in her past. Patterson? It is not clear he learned anything, and if given the opportunity will act in the same way again. Roseanne’s series of post-insult tweets almost prove that she has not learned anything at all and is highly likely to repeat her behavior.

Any road to forgiveness must include a process where the perpetrators are made fully aware of the damage they have done as well as convincing assurances that the perpetrator will not re-offend.

Currently there is not a process where Patterson can be authentically confronted with the grave nature of his behavior. Using church language, he should be able to repent of his sins, there is no process where that is possible. In his tradition all it takes for forgiveness is a simple walk up the aisle during the fifth verse of “Just As I Am.” This is a strange place for the church to be in.

I know it is hard to think that Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby might experience forgiveness from any of the people they assaulted. And it is not my place to tell any person who has been assaulted that they should forgive the person who harmed them. Perhaps there are some people for whom vengeance is the only avenue. And I certainly do not mean to imply that forgiveness of any kind excuses behavior, or the consequences of behavior. Some people will only experience forgiveness from a jail cell. That was the problem that many Catholic bishops had. They thought that Christian repentance gave  offending priests a free “get out of jail” card.

The recent statement, Reclaiming Jesus, written by a group of diverse Christians, including Evangelicals, draws a clear line:

WE REJECT misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God. We lament when such practices seem publicly ignored, and thus privately condoned, by those in high positions of leadership. We stand for the respect, protection, and affirmation of women in our families, communities, workplaces, politics, and churches. We support the courageous truth-telling voices of women, who have helped the nation recognize these abuses. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.

It is good to hear those words from a group that has been traditionally loosey goosey on sexual misconduct. But there needs to be a movement to go even further, a movement toward true repentance and forgiveness.




Act Seven

Roseanne Redux

Roseanne Barr asked for forgiveness, but shows no signs that she has learned anything about her behavior, no signs of forgiveness. After the insult she tweeted, “I’m not a racist, just an idiot who made a bad joke.” Racism can be cured, but being an idiot is permanent, especially when that is used to excuse bad behavior.

It doesn’t look like she is going to get forgiveness, at least not from her network, because it was just announced that there will be a Roseanne spinoff—without Roseanne.

Whether it is racist jokes or sexual misconduct, there are things our society cannot condone, and must condemn. When people step over a line, there should be a way for them to work their way back, but the way should not be cheap nor easy. Forgiveness, when given, does not guarantee easy access back to the kind of behavior that got people in trouble in the first place. It should make it clear to the offender why they should have never gone there, and they should be able to guarantee why they will never go back.

Americans love a good comeback story. But to come back, you have change direction.



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The Healing Place

539dc307-a49b-410a-9f81-f2a51258ee89This is a bit different sermon for me. It has a very open-ended conclusion, if it even has a conclusion. Basically I want to know how we can help each other encounter the healing power of God. (Text at the end, as usual.) 
When Steve called to set up a meeting with me early on a Tuesday morning, I had no idea why a) he wanted the appointment and b) why so early in the morning. As it turned out, his wife was having surgery later in the morning, and he wanted to pray with me beforehand. The fact that a husband wanted prayer for his wife’s surgery was not out of the ordinary. The fact that Steve was a surgeon, and was extremely wound up about what was usually considered a routine surgery was a little out of the ordinary.
“I’m a doctor,” he told me. “I know how much is in my hands, and how much is not. I know how important it is to bring God in the room. I want God there with my wife when she is being operated on.”
His wife came out of the surgery with no complications, but it was an important moment for me. As much as I believe that God heals us through doctors and nurses and counselors and other professionals, I have come to respect the more direct role of God in healing as well. More than once I have seen people recover from life threatening medical situations, and the doctors who were caring for the person were mystified why. A few of the doctors I knew when I worked as a hospital chaplain were pretty open about their faith. “It’s a miracle,” were words I heard more than once.
# # #
The Healing Place
In my last sermon I talked about the calm within the storm, and I said that as the Body of Christ, we are the calm within the storm. We are the shelter from the storm. Just as Jesus rebuked the wind and the rain, so we rebuke the storms that enter our lives, knowing that God is bigger than the storms. Our relationship with God gives us a long-term perspective on events. As peole of faith we know, in the end, that evil will not triumph, that the storms will not undo us. They scare us, but they will not destroy us.
This week I am talking about the Healing Place, and I want to say first that we are also a healing place. Just as we are the calm in the storm, so are we to a healing place.
A friend of mine in Durham, North Carolina came from an Assemblies of God background. His father was an Assemblies of God pastor. But he contracted a chronic illness, one that did not end his career as a minister, but which had an effect on how he carried out his ministry. The congregation he served believed that God healed those who needed healing. Their pastor’s illness was almost an affront to them, as if God had abandoned him. And if God had abandoned their minister, they felt God had abandoned them. And so they drove him away.
“The church,” said my friend, “is the only hospital that shoots its wounded.” Instead of being a healing place, sometimes churches are the last place you can admit to having any problems.
# # #
A Story of Two Healings
This morning’s Gospel lesson is a story of two healings. The first is the daughter of the local leader of the synagogue. Jairus, her father comes to Jesus ands asks him to heal his daughter. Well, not asked. Jairus begs him to heal his daughter who is dying. Jesus agrees but on the way there he has an unexpected healing encounter. In the crowd of people followng him to Jairus’s house is a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for the last twelve years. Now in that culture, the flow of blood made this woman unclean. And anyone who touched her also became unclean. She had to avoid human contact. When she met someone, she was obligated to tell them she was an unclean person.
When I was a kid we had a kid in our class who was more than a bit different from the rest of us. I lived in fairly affluent neighborhood, and almost all the kids in the school came from an upper-middle class background. But not Terry. His family was poor. His clothes obviously came from thrift shops. (Most of us did not know what a thrift shop was!) He didn’t always smell nice, like the other kids. Once, for show and tell, he told us of how his mother had stabbed his father during a fight. All of this led us to the obvious conclusion that Terry had cooties, which was the worst thing a kid could have. One day, during recess, Terry ran around telling the other kids he had cooties, and chasing them, to give them his cooties. I remember watching that, and it was the first time I saw what social ostracization was. Terry was an unclean person, and what was worse, he owned that. He saw himself as a person with cooties, and his response was to spread them to us. Maybe he thought that if we all had cooties, then we could friends.
The woman with the hemorrhage was Terry writ large. Like Terry, she reached out to touch others, specifically Jesus, but she did so, not to “infect” him, but to find healing. So she touched him. She did not even touch him. She knew that was wrong. She just touched his cloak. And Jesus knew, as soon as he was touched, that something happened, something special. He calls out, “Who touched me?” The woman came forward, and admitted the whole thing. In that context Jesus had every right to yell at her, to say, “Who are you to touch me like that?” That was probably what the woman expected.
But that is not what happened. Instead he embraces her. “Your faith has made you well. Go and peace. And be healed.”
Now here is the interesting thing. Her body was already healed. But there was a deeper wound, one that no doctor could cure. Her soul was damaged. She was an outcast. The deeper pain was the shame she lived with for all those years.
While this is happening some people come and to tell Jairus that his daughter has died. There is no more reason for Jesus to come. The battle is lost. She is gone, and there is nothing that anyone can do anymore. Not even Jesus.
Or so they thought. But Jesus is not one to be stopped by lost causes. He insists on going on the home, against the advice of those who thought they knew what was what. And he heals her.
# # #
The Lord of Lost People and Lost Causes
In the first instance, Jesus reaches out beyond social strictures to provide healing. Now here is the interesting thing. Her body was already healed. But there was a deeper wound, one that no doctor could cure. Her soul was damaged. She was an outcast. The deeper pain was the shame she lived with for all those years. Jesus does not see a woman who is a pariah to all around her. He sees a hurt person who needs healing. The real healing took place in her soul. She was a lost soul with a damaged spirit, and Jesus healed her.
In the second, he reaches past the lost cause and brings about a new possibility. Jesus does not see the hopelessness of the situation. He sees instead the possibility of God’s healing actions, which can work through him.
He is the Lord of lost people and lost causes, and can bring healing to both situations. And he does.
And he still does.
Now our maladies may not be as dire as that of the woman or of Jairus’s daughter. But we have them. You don’t have to be physically sick to need healing. We all have suffered the hurts of life, and some of those hurts, while old, may still be doing damage in us. Some of may be soul sick; there is a dis-ease within us that no doctor can cure.
# # #
How Can This Be?
So if we are the healing place, and Jesus is the healer, how does all this work?
It’s not gonna happen because I start calling people up and whomp you on the head saying “In the nahyme of Jezzzus, be HEALED!”
But it does happen through intentional prayer.
I participated in a healing service many years ago, which I will never forget. This was a raucus free for all, but a quiet service, where the congregation sang songs and hymns. Those who wanted to could come up for prayer. There were three teams at the chancel area, and we prayed with and for people as they came up to ask for prayer.
I remember one person vividly. A man I had known for a few years came up, and he said, “Four years ago my oldest son told me he had AIDS. I kicked him out. I rejected him. I never saw him again. A year ago I got word that he died. I don’t know where and I don’t know how.” Then he broke down crying. “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “He was my son, and I…” He couldn’t even finish the sentence. The two of us who were praying for him held his hands. And we prayed for him, and we prayed with him. We sat with him for a long time, while he cried and we prayed silently for him, and he prayed. His prayer was simple. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Please forgive me.”
And something started to change in him that day. He started to find healing. When I saw him, about five months later, he was volunteering with a group that provided care and counseling for AIDS patients. He was doing for others what he did not do for his son, and in the process, he found healing.
Now healing is not always as dramatic. It is not always within the context of a healing service. When we take time for the silent confession each week, you are essentially asking for God to heal us from the hurts we might have inflicted on others during the week, for the needs we may have ignored, for the sins that may have scarred us. I hope that is what we do during that time. Maybe not every week, but every week we need to.
Every Sunday we pray for people here in this congregation. I say, “What are the joys and concerns of your life?” and the people tell me. They share their prayer request. They share the joys they have in their hearts. After they have shared, I say, “Lord in your mercy,” and the congregation says, “Hear our prayers.” That should be, when needed, a healing act of prayer.
Often we pray for people’s physical needs, and that is right and meet to do. But I am sure that there are needs that do not get mentioned because they are either very personal or not appropriate to share in a public context. And I have to say, I’m not sure we provide enough opportunities for that. Some people come to talk to me privately, but as I was preparing this sermon, I began to realize that if we are to be a healing place, we need to provide more opportunities for healing. I would be interested in hearing from you on how you think we can become a more healing place.
In the end I need to say that we are not the healers. Christ is the healer. We provide opportunities for Christ to work. We provide ways for people to encounter the healing touch of Christ.
How can we best do that? How can this church provide a place of healing for you? Often in a sermon I end up talking about possibilities for ways to serve Jesus. This week I am asking you, “How can we help Jesus servce you? How can we provide a way for you to encounter the healing touch of Jesus? What can the church do to help you? This week I am asking you, “How can we be the healing place where Christ is able to do the work?”
To believe that God may heal is a radical act of faith. To believe that God can heal our souls, to believe that God can do things we think are impossible takes faith. Not your faith. OUR faith. We gather together to provide a community of healing, to support one another, to pray for one another, and let God work through us to heal one another.
Mark 5:21-43
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Posted in Church, Healing, Jesus, ministry, Musings, Spiritual Growth, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Zen of Barbecue

Although I have been eating it as long as I can remember, I did not hear the words “pulled pork” until I was 44 years old and living in Alaska.
To me it was always and only barbecue. Put it on a bun, eat it chopped, sliced, or pulled, it is barbecue. When I say barbecue I mean one of two things: smoked pork butts, or a slow cooked whole pig. (Pork butts, by the way, are the front quarters of the pig. The back quarters are hams.) When it is a whole pig, you invite loads of friends and neighbors, and that is called a Pig Pickin’.
14324356_10208535008631727_106384554670063499_o(I am well aware that people in other regions of the country have different ideas about what constitutes “true barbecue.” In Texas it is beef, which I will admit is delicious. In Alabama they do chicken in a white sauce–also good. But I am at heart a Carolina boy, so for me, ‘cue is always pork.)
I grew up around some the best barbecue joints in North Carolina. i never appreciated what a treasure trove of porcine deliciousness I had in my own back yard until I moved away.
There is barbecued chicken, and barbecued beef and barbecue sauces, but in those cases barbecue is an adjective. When it is a noun, it is the stuff of pig cooked over low heat for a long time.
I was visiting some friends in Los Angeles (only my second time out of the South for any length of time), and the person I was staying with suggested we do a barbecue. I knew that smokers were in short supply, so the odds of making actual barbecue were pretty slim, but I figured we could do some chicken, and I jumped on the idea. Not barbecue, but close enough. “That sounds great! I’ll make my special sauce, and we can do chicken, because, well, barbecue takes more time than we have, and I can make some cole slaw (the red kind, not that generic mayonnaise based stuff) and I’m pretty sure we can jury rig the grill to do indirect heat so we can slow cook the chicken and….” My friend was looking at me like I started scat singing. She had no idea what I was talking about.
“A barbecue,” she said, a phrase I was unfamiliar with, “you know, hot dogs and hamburgers.”
That is a cook out, not “a barbecue.” You don’t have “a barbecue.” Remember, when barbecue is a noun, it is a piquant pork dish of unparalleled deliciousness. You can barbecue as a verb—hence the chicken and the beef. But when you are cooking hot dogs and hamburgers outside over a fire, that is grilling.
Some people cook pork in crock pot, drown it in a sauce and call it barbecue.
If you need to put sauce on it, it is not good barbecue. The best barbecue can be eaten as is—it does not need to be drowned in sauce any more than a good steak needs to be drowned in ketchup. Sure, some people may prefer a little sauce with their pig, or a little A1 on their rib eye. Nothing wrong with that. But the sauce doesn’t make it barbecue any more than the A1 makes a sirloin a ribeye.
In our household we believe in the division of labor. I do the barbecue, the ribs and the chicken, while the Redhead does the brisket, and I get to do the smoking. We divide the labor by enjoyment. For me the zen of barbecue is the process. Usually I make pounds and pounds of barbecue, and then serve it to others. For the Redhead the zen of barbecue is the meat.
Sometimes I get carried away, and start dreaming of starting a BBQ joint of my own. I see myself standing among hordes of people eating my delicious food. I go from table to table, and people tell me how good it is. I’m like Rick in Casablanca, which was originally called, “Everyone Goes to Rick’s.” I might even buy a white dinner jacket. When I have those thoughts the Redhead reminds me of the BBQ guy I would see on my way to work everyday. He sat perched beside the huge smoker, and I know he started the day at 4:00 am, and that he did that every day, without a break. There was nothing in his face that led me to believe he was enjoying it.
That’s how we generally divide the labor in our household. I dream, and she is the realist.
My favorite BBQ story is the guy who asked if he could work with the one of the Q Masters. The Q Master told him to come early on Saturday, and when he got there, he was told to sit on a stump in the middle of the yard and watch everything. He took out his notebook, sat, watched and wrote. At the end of the day the Q Master asked what he had learned. He took out his notebook and started reading his notes. “The chicken goes in 20 minutes after the fire is started, and cooks for one and half hours. The pig is…” At that point the Q Master took his notebook and threw it in the fire.
“I told you to watch, not write,” he said. “You don’t need a laundry list telling you what to do. Just sit on the stump and listen. The chickens will whisper to you hen they need to be flipped. The pork will sing when it is finished cooking. The fire will wink at you when another log is needed. No list, no clock, no thermometer can tell you how to cook barbecue. You sit in the corner, and you just know.”
I am not there yet. I still listen to the themometer. But I am getting better.
I love the process, from buying the meat to preparing it to smoking it to pulling and serving it.
I used to get up early on Saturdays, prepare the meat–always pork butts. I put on the rub. I inject them with my secret injection sauce. I let the preparations do their magic while I start the fire. I have heard that some people smoke meat using a gas grill, but that makes no sense to me. The joy of cooking is the fire. I pour a ring of charcoal in the fire pit, fill the chimney with charcoal, and light that using two full sheets of newsprint. I have not bought lighter fluid in 25 years. You know that keroseny smell you get when you use lighter fluid? That is what gets in your meat.
Little things make it better. I grow and smoke my own paprika for the rub, and this year I will using my own cayenne pepper as well. I can be hard on my tools. I go through three or four injection needles a season. I used to go through thermometers like that, but the Redhead gave a me a fancy one, with blue tooth so I can check the temps on my phone while I am smoking. (So much for listening to the meat.)
bbq3I used to have a barrel smoker, the kind where the barrel is on its side with the firebox beside. I had to keep a close eye on the temps with that smoker. One side is always hotter than the other, so I had to have a different thermometer for each side, and frequently move the meat from one side to the other. It was drafty. The metal was thin, and there was no real seal to it. Smoke poured out all the edges. The fire took a lot of tending. A lot.
When I moved to Oregon I got a new smoker, leaving my old one to a BBQ buddy in Alaska. The new one is an upright barrel, and holds the heat. I can start the fire and go back to bed for a while, knowing that when I get up, the temps will still be in the 225-250 range. Maybe its not as fun as the old one, but I get more sleep.IMG_1680
It takes 14 to 16 hours to get the pork butts to the right temps. One hundred and ninety degrees. Any cooler, and it won’t pull. Much warmer and it drys out. The last three hours are the hardest. It smells like barbecue, but I know it is not ready. The temp tends to stall when it gets to 170 degrees and it can stay there for a long time. (The dreaded stall is when the juices in the act as a temperature stabilizer, and the meat gets stuck. Some people, when they hit the stall use a Texas Crutch—wrapping the meat the aluminum foil for the last bit. I only use the crutch when I am on a deadline.)
Making barbecue is an activity of leisure. There are sporadic bursts of action, punctuated by long hours of watching. I prepare the meat, start the fire, put the meat in the smoker, check the temps, wait, check the temps, put some hickory wood on the fire, and wait. And wait.
Around noon I will light up the first cigar, and around two I’ll crack open the first beer. And I’ll check the temps again, put more wood on, rake the ashes out of the grate, and wait. Another cigar. Put more charcoal in the chimney and add it to the fire. Wait. Another beer, and cigar. Wait. Read a bit maybe.
Around four the first friends will have smelled the smoke and will start congregating in our yard. More beer, another cigar, and check the fire again. The meat is slowly cooking and is running around 150 now. I wait. Then stoke the fire a little add some more hickory and wait. By now the yard is full of friends and some are starting to ask when it will be done. “When it’s done,” is all I can say, not knowing if this will be a 14 hour or 16 smoke.
More friends, another cigar. The temps hit 170, and I swear some of our friends seem to be drooling. The Redhead is making potato salad, and we throw some corn on a grill. More friends and more beers. The meat has stalled, so we all wait. I am tempted to stoke up the fire and get the temps up to 275, maybe even 300, but I know that is a mistake. My friends will just have to wait. And wait. We talk, and wait.
The meat moves out of the stall, and is now running 180, then 182 then 185. It is close and I feel like it should be done in the next five minutes, but in fact we still have at least a half hour to go. The thermometer starts to beep, warning me it is about time. We wait some more. Just a little while longer, I tell my friends.
And then, the magic happens. The thermometer beeps, telling me it is done. I take the meat inside, pull the butts with the steel bear claws I bought just for this purpose, and the Redhead starts taking it outside.
Let the feast begin!
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