Like a starry summer night

When I was little, one of my favorite parts of the day was bedtime, when I would lay in my big four-poster bed with my mom and sometimes my dad. We’d read together, and then my mom would sing to me. Not just one lullaby, but five or six before I’d let her turn the lights out. The night was extra special when she held up my Lammy as a puppet and had Lammy sing to me. There was a whole songbook in our hearts of favorite lullabies. One of the less frequent, but still cherished, songs on the setlist was “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”

Though I had never seen anyone who was red, yellow, black, or white, I was old enough to know that “white” meant people who looked like me, and “black” meant people who looked like many of my friends in kindergarten. The meaning of “red” I learned later, reading Little House on the Prairie, and the meaning of “yellow” as a teenager studying American history. The message of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” is an important one, and Jesus’ love for all people as unique reflections of His image is central to the anti-racist work that brings the church closer to true embodiment of the Holy Spirit.

However, every time we reference “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” saying or singing, “red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight,” we are employing racial epithets. Clare Herbert Woolston, a Baptist minister, wrote the song to the tune of a Civil War battle march in the late 1800s.1 For some historical context, this is the same time period as the beginning of Chinese immigration to the West Coast of the United States and the racist, reactionary politics to limit opportunities for Asian immigrants, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which excluded Chinese immigrants from legal immigration and naturalization on the basis of race.2 Native Americans were being massacred at the hands of the U.S. military as American settlers pushed westward and were denied citizenship and any related rights in the lands they had inhabited for centuries.3

The terms “red” to describe Native Americans and “yellow” to describe people of East Asian descent, when used today, reflect a history of the dehumanization of groups of people on the basis of race. “Yellow Peril” is the idea that the Chinese are a barbarian people intent on destroying Christendom.4 The term “redskin” was and remains a term laden with the stereotype of the “violent native.”5

It might be easy to dismiss a critique of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” as an exercise in political correctness. But is it not an exercise in love? To white people like me, who have never experienced systemic discrimination based on the color of our skin, maybe it does seem an unnecessary critique. But how can all the nations under heaven worship together while one of our worship songs uses derogatory terms to describe some of those nations? Giving up a cherished tradition like a song is uncomfortable. Maybe it feels like giving up another part of the Church you grew up with in a world where nothing seems the same as it used to be. But the Church was never supposed to be comfortable; it is supposed to be embodied Love.

I have seen so many church members come out in support of the Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality movement over the last couple of weeks. This essay addresses some of the issues two groups of people of color have faced in American history; other groups, and especially Black Americans, have faced (and continue to face) similar and yet unique biases, prejudices, and discriminatory practices. We’re all learning, changing, and growing during this time. I’ve made a couple mistakes. I’ve seen a couple of other people make mistakes. We’re not going to get it right every time. Otherwise, why would we need grace?

Don’t be afraid to learn, grow, and change. Give grace. Receive grace.

The second verse of “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” as my mother sang it, went like this:

“Everything is beautiful, in its own way. Like a starry summer night, the world’s gonna find a way.”

Growth is hard. Change is hard. But we’re gonna find a way.

In every coming of age novel I’ve ever read

It seemed obvious which choice the main character should make

But here I am

Here we all are

In the middle of a Bildungsroman

(personal, national)

And every choice is consequential

(personally, nationally)

I used to get angry with characters who chose wrong

But now I understand

That you never really know which choice is the right one before you make it

And sometimes not even after.

Gospel Unity

This summer I had the opportunity to swim in several ice-cold mountain swimming holes. My hair stood on end each time I entered the water, and the bone-chilling cold set my heart racing. The water was uncomfortable, but it restored my legs for more trail miles with a heavy backpack, and it made the humid North Carolina air more bearable–even if I shivered for the first few minutes out of the water, towel-less, sunning myself on big rocks.

I entered this summer drenched in spiritual sweat. I was bent over, wheezing, and red-faced from the effort I was making to avoid disillusionment with God, wrapped up in my disillusionment with the world, the Church, and the American political environment.

My time as a wilderness counselor at camp this summer was both literally and metaphorical, a jump into the frigid Linville River. I forgot to hold my nose. The Gospel rushed into my sinuses, undeniable Truth so ever-present it gave me a headache.

There wasn’t time–or cell signal–to be concerned with executive orders, judicial council proceedings, or minute theological disagreements while I taught high school girls how to set up rainflies, cook over camp stoves, and pack backpacks on the rim of the Linville Gorge. My calling this summer wasn’t to figure out which method of biblical interpretation was the correct one; it was instead to show girls the truth of who Jesus was and to understand that Truth for myself. I spent ten weeks teaching the very basic tenets of Christian faith: Jesus is the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate for the sheep; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth, and the life; and the vine.

And it felt good. It felt right. Believe me, I know the Lord is present in the everyday. But ultimately we’re called to an eternal mindset, not an everyday mindset. Recently my vision of eternity has been clouded because I can’t stop wrapping myself in all the everyday pain present in this fallen world. Jesus came that we may have abundant life–and for me, at least, abundant life is not closely following every headline and church disagreement, attempting to discern right and wrong.

I have not stopped and will not stop praying for and pursuing justice for all of God’s people, however He intends that to look. I know that as a straight, white, upper-middle class white woman, I have the uncommon luxury of spending time focused on the simple Gospel, suspending concern for the nuances of complex theology. But this summer I’ve rediscovered the reason I care so much for the future of the Church and the world: a good God came into this world to give me abundant life, and everyone deserves to know just how abundant life can be.

Excluded, Included

I should be studying. But I’ve been thinking so much this week that I can’t think. I just saw a quote from Reverend Eston Williams: “At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I excluded.”




For those of you not wrapped up in church news—specifically, United Methodist Church news—the church’s legislative body, the General Conference, voted this week to strengthen our Book of Discipline’s language excluding non-celibate LGBTQ individuals from the clergy and punishing clergy who violate these rules or perform same-sex marriages. The decision faces judicial review, but the decision was made nonetheless.

“Open Hearts, Open Doors,” we say. Perhaps not for all.

I am hurt. I am confused. And, in the words of Reverend Williams, I really would “rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I excluded.” If we take some parts of the Bible in historical context, considering the biases of its writers, why do we exclude other passages from that process? In truth, the issue of homosexuality isn’t the most pressing division in the church today, though it’s certainly the most damaging symptom at this moment. The most pressing division is over interpretation of this book, this God-breathed scripture, that we all love. That won’t be solved by any legislative body.

However, my purpose in writing isn’t to elaborate on that intricate theological debate—I simply want to share that I’m confused, to get my words out so that I can continue with my life, and hopefully to help everyone reading put their thoughts into words as well.

Here’s the thing: two days after I turned thirteen, I made vows in front of my church (see: image with this post). Most importantly, I publicly professed my faith and desire to serve the Lord. After that, I promised to be loyal to the United Methodist Church and strengthen its ministries.

Do I stand up against this injustice at the risk of weakening the church’s other ministries? What does loyalty mean when the church’s legislative body makes a decision that, to me, violates Jesus’ greatest commandment? The consequences of a mass exodus from the UMC are grave. In South Carolina, what happens to Epworth Children’s Home, supported by churches in the conference? To Asbury Hills, which changes so many lives every summer? To the Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry? The list goes on, and around the world ministries of the United Methodist Church hang in the balance. There is no doubt that we are better equipped to do ministry when the Body of Christ is united.

The problem with Reverend Williams’ quote, as visceral as my initial reaction was, is that it fails to recognize that by excluding myself from the church to stand for the inclusion of all, I paradoxically exclude the people served by the ministries of the United Methodist Church. Would failing to tithe, transferring membership, or stepping back from the church unintentionally put more value on the lives of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters than my brothers and sisters who live at Epworth?

A similar problem with post-General Conference discussions: I think that we One Church and Simple Plan supporters have made a habit of blaming our loss on international conferences. If we truly support interpreting the Bible in the context of its writing using the lens of our present culture, can we blame people living in other cultures for having different interpretations than we do? While I fully believe that God calls for all people to be included in all aspects of His church, I have to respect the backgrounds of the delegates from all around the world. To protest that we should not be the ones that have to split off, that it should be them, we perpetuate our subconscious feelings of white American superiority that do not belong anywhere, let alone the church. Clearly, we are in the minority in this situation.

I’d rather be excluded for who I include that included for who I excluded.

But I don’t want to exclude anyone, and it seems that the structure of the Church, tainted by human sin, has created a situation with an “us” and “them.”

But thankfully, even as everything seems broken, I can differentiate the structure of the Church from the Church.

The Church is not the General Conference. The Church is not the United Methodist Church. The Church is not the Southern Baptist Church or the Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church.

Where two or more gather in Jesus’ name, He is there.

The Church is praying with a friend before a meal, songs of love around a campfire, mucking out houses after a hurricane, giving immunizations to the uninsured.

We are broken, but Jesus wasn’t crucified for flawless people.

Lord, make us whole. Let Your will be done here as in heaven.

Show us the way forward.