Blessed are the Bridge-builders

Here’s an excerpt from my sermon the week after the Baltimore riots… I don’t have a solution but if Christians as bridge-builders keep trying to make peace, someone will be smart enough to figure it out!

I woke up this morning with lines clearly drawn down my Facebook page.  Comments about racial injustice and police violence on one side, and adamant support of the men and women in blue on the other.  Like everything in our world these days, two sides, clearly drawn, with tension and awkwardness, hatred and violence in the giant rift in between.

Now, I don’t have all the answers for this tension—I wish I did—but that’s not where this sermon is going.  But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the two sides I see, listening and trying to make sense of what is going on.  I know some men and some women who are cops—in New York, in Virginia, and even here in Baltimore.  And every police officer I know—they are good people.  Good-hearted people who take seriously the service they give to the cities where they work.

And on the other side, for every police officer I know, I know a black man who has been harassed unnecessarily by the police.  Not thugs or drug dealers, but nerdy clergy types of various ages who honestly and painfully recount stories of being harassed.

So what do I make of those observations?  Again, I’ll say I don’t have all the answers.  But it does occur to me that side-taking gets us nowhere.

It does occur to me that our God might just be calling us to do something other than take sides.  You see, God is a God of love.  God is a God of understanding.  God is a God of connection and peace.  And the God I know—that God wants love and peace and connection and understanding not only for cops, but also for the people they serve and protect.

And if you are wondering what God might want us to do as Christians in these kind of situations, you aren’t the only one.  How do we act and respond as Christians in these crazy times that ask everybody to take a side?  Are you “all lives matter” or “black lives matter”?  Do you support marriage equality or religious freedom?  Gun control or freedom to bear arms?  Now as I’m sure you are aware, I could name a hundred other hot button issues in our world today, and there are people on either side of the debate loudly proclaiming the name Christian.

So what are we to do?  Well, I have come to the conclusion that we as a society will not find solutions if we keep taking sides.  And I have come to the conclusion that the church will continue to die if we continue to take sides.  If we continue to draw lines in the sand and create “us and them” dynamics in every situation.

Now, all that being said, I believe that taking a stand is different than taking a side.  Yes, as Christians, we are called to take a stand for our God.  For love.  For grace, for forgiveness, and for connection.  For peace.

For peace.  There you have it, folks.  Peace.  Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God.  Not blessed are the side-takers and the wall-builders.  But blessed are the peacemakers, the bridge-builders.  Those who practice love and grace and welcome and forgiveness.

What would it look like if all of us who claimed to be Christians put the energy we use to take sides into facilitating reconciliation and forgiveness?  What would our world look like if we’d been doing THAT ever since the first Easter Sunday?

Then I hear Jesus’ words about being the shepherd.  I remember that Jesus told stories about how much God loves us—that God will come looking for us when we are lost like a foolish shepherd who goes after one lost sheep, leaving the rest unattended.  That’s actually not very wise shepherding, but I like it, and I need it!

And then we hear the words of Jesus today—about love and care and even about freedom:  I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me.  I came so they may have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  And I will lay down my life for them, and I will lay down my life for other sheep, another flock that they don’t even know.

Jesus isn’t taking sides—here he is in this scripture telling us that a Good Shepherd stands in the gap and takes care of more than one flock of sheep.  And he tells us that one day, there will be one flock.  All of us sheep will be together.

Christianity is not a Pollyanna faith that says the hard stuff goes away and it all gets better.  It’s not a faith that allows us to set our brains aside.  It’s not a faith that says life will always be comfortable or easy.  But the faith I know in Jesus Christ is a defiant faith that says that when crazy senseless death and irrational violence get hold of us, our God will seek us out with equally crazy death-defying love.

I have to say in the midst of all this side-taking, I see far too little love.  Far too little forgiveness.  Far too little peace-making.  And until these things can happen, we will stay broken.  Our world will stay broken.  Our country will stay broken.  Our city will remain broken.  Heck, these separations come into churches and families—and they will remain broken if nothing changes.  If we don’t trust the love of our Good Shepherd.  If we don’t use our God-given gifts to create something healing, to build bridges, not walls.

This is the message I’d love to get out to world—that I’d love for the city of Baltimore to hear right now—that I’d love for all of you to go out and share right now:  as we all go out, and in the name of our God the Good Shepherd, share his crazy death-defying love.  Amen.

Making Ministry

As I’m clicking through all the things I’ve chosen to include in building this site, all the images and items that, to my mind have everything to do with ministry, I can see why someone might be asking, what do felt finger puppets have to do with faith?  (Hmmm… Jesus and the Disciples finger puppets– that’s a great idea!).  Here’s the best answer I can give you:

I believe that “making” connects us to God.  When we write, paint, craft, sew, cook, knit, crochet, make finger puppets, we are creating, we are using a part of ourselves that is given to us– GIFTED to us–by the Great Artist whose name is Love.  When we use the gift of our creativity, we connect with the God who made us, the Potter, the Baker, the Weaver, the Crafter of Mountains and Sculptor of Canyons and Painter of Spotted Owl Feathers.  How can we look at our world and NOT consider God an Artist?  And, by extension, it is the beauty of our world and the passions within us that inspire human beings to do the work we do– to make art in whatever way we feel moved.

Now, I’m not much of a sketch artist, and because I always wished I could draw, I never had much confidence in my skills as an artist.  Yet more and more as I came to know myself, I felt the need to “make”– to cook, to do crafts, to take photos, to write, and even to use chalk pastels and water colors.  As I grew into myself, I realized that some kind of “making” was essential to my mental, emotional, and– most importantly– my spiritual wellness and wholeness.  Sometimes I need the sound of metal knitting needles scraping softly to help me pray.  Sometimes I need to see my sons squeal with delight as they play Superheroes with finger puppets in order to feel joy and laughter in my soul.  Sometimes welcoming folks around a table of food I cooked reminds me of those who welcomed Jesus, and challenges me to expand my sense of hospitality to include more of God’s people.

As a pastor, over and over again I see God’s glorious gifted people stammer and hesitate when called to share their gifts.  Any kind of gift, not just artistic– “oh no, I could never pray out loud,” “I’m terrified of public speaking, I could never preach,” “I make a joyful noise, but choir’s not for me…”  I’m sure you’ve heard a few excuses or said a few yourself.  And when I try to add anything “crafty” or “artistic” in there, I get the same kind of hesitation.  To be such fabulous creations of the Divine, we human beings are so painfully insecure.  Yet we are so gifted.  So talented.  If only we had the courage to share what we’ve been given.

Imagine using art to change the world…

Imagine knitters and crocheters and fiber artists making hats, scarves and gloves for the homeless, donating blankets and hats to the oncology department of local hospitals, bringing lap quilts to the local retirement center…

Imagine quilters making blankets for the newly baptized, for confirmed youth, to commemorate loved ones lost to cancer or AIDS/HIV…

Imagine young people using painting, sculpture, multi-media collage– color, texture, form– to celebrate their beloved, created selves…

Imagine those who are grieving finding comfort, companionship, and consolation while creating something artistic and beautiful…

Imagine the broken finding healing as they co-create with God a vision of wholeness for themselves.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was in our hands to build, a kingdom celebrating justice, equality and diversity. So often we feel helpless in making a difference, yet the Great Artist and Architect of our world “gifts” each beloved child with everything we need to tear down the walls of injustice that divide us and build a better world.

A Prayer for St. John’s UCC

This is one of my favorite prayers that I’ve written.  It came to me as I prepared for the Annual Meeting of the church in 2011.


A Prayer for St. John’s UCC

God of stunning golden leaves and soft pink cherry blossoms,

God of children’s laughter and squeals of delight,

            We thank you for this place you share with us—

                                    this church that is St. John’s. 

Lord, you have filled this place with sweet songs, gurgling infants, and creaking bones—a wide and diverse gathering of your people: 

            and for this, we give you thanks. 

Holy One, you have taken a group of German immigrants building a house of faith and transformed them into a city on a hill—

            full of the joy of the gospel

            and welcoming all your children,

                        of all backgrounds, ages and races. 

            Again, for this, we give you thanks and praise. 

God who loves all the world and sent your Son to save it,

            We call on you this day and every day to strengthen your people of St. John’s to do the work of the Gospel: 

            to offer extravagant welcome to all you send through our doors;

            to share in heartfelt worship and praise;

            to serve as Jesus Christ taught us;

            and to open our hearts and minds to learning something new about you each day of our lives.

Each day, dear God, make clear for us the path which Jesus Christ showed us to follow. 

            Strengthen us by your unconditional love. 

            Fill us with your joy. 

            Guide us by your Holy Spirit. 

            Breathe in us the wisdom of being grateful for all you share with us.

We pray, this day and every day, you will shape our lives and our church into what you call us to be.

We offer this thanksgiving and praise, and we ask for this guidance in the name of the one whom we follow: Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.



Grits and God-talk Finally Comes to Life!

Well, bless your heart, you’ve stumbled upon the internet home of Rev. Jennifer Sowell Glover.  Welcome!  This is the place where I ruminate a bit on God, share my thoughts on ministry, and celebrate my life and family.  And dream a dream or two, as well.

There cannot be God-talk without grits! These are spicy pepper cheese grits that accompanied VooDoo Salmon and succotash on Valentine’s Day 2014.

If you were in my actual house, like any good Southerner, I would apologize profusely for “the mess” (and unlike most Southerners, in my house there is an ACTUAL mess!), insist you sit in the most comfortable chair, and offer you something to drink or eat.  Since we are on the ‘net, I’ll just say a quick prayer of thanks that you can see my site without seeing my laundry pile!

Now, you may be asking yourself why on earth this blog is entitled “Grits and God-talk.”  It’s a good question.  It’s a title I’ve been tossing around in my head for about ten years now, and reflects where I’ve been and who I am.

Grits, as you might know, are a quintessential Southern food.  And while I’ve never been a huge fan of that “other” quintessential Southern food (sweet tea), I do love grits.  Good, fluffy, buttery grits.  One side of my Southern family loves them with sugar and butter, and that was my favorite for a long time.  The other side always preferred salt, pepper and butter– and when I met my husband and he suggested I add a little hot sauce, I was sold.  On him and the grits.

What you might not know about grits is that good ones can be hard to find.  Fluffy grits.  Often outside of the South, they are watery and overly gritty.  No good.  As much as I loved New York City, and as much as I love the area of Maryland where I currently live, both places could use some lessons in cooking grits!

Good grits are hard to find.  And so is good God-talk.  Honest God-talk.  God-talk that allows you to be yourself, have joy and great faith, wrestle with doubt and grief and hesitation.  God-talk that welcomes everyone and allows for differences.

And that is what I hope this blog will be.  A warm, welcome, and satisfying experience, like a bowl of grits made your favorite way.  A place where I can be myself, and you can be yourself.  And we can all celebrate that we are God’s beloved children, and that our differences are the thing that makes God so awesome– not the things to tear us apart!