Friday, June 8, 2018

Listening is Loving

One of the amazing things about the Internet is that really gives everybody a microphone that was reserved for a privileged few not too many decades ago. Everyone can have a platform, a place for attention, or a digital pulpit to proclaim their truth for the masses-at least the scattered few who come across them.

I am as engaged in that world as anyone. I have multiple social media accounts. I podcast. I tweet. And every once in a while, I send a snap. I am no stranger to pontificating on the Internet. But more and more, I am coming to the conviction that part of why the Internet is such a hostile environment is that no one is actually taking the time to listen to voices that should be heard. Even more than a formal debate, the posture of those reading on the Internet is one of defensiveness and being ready to make your point. We just don’t hear each other. The Internet has done an incredible favor to us by making the voices that have hitherto been oppressed, suppressed, ignored, or just completely left without access available to any who can listen.

And we need to listen. Not so much because everybody deserves to make their own point. Or that the Internet has democratized all perspectives. We have to listen for the sake of love. We have to listen because to take a first step in acknowledging and affirming the dignity of marginalized voices requires that people like me (white, male, cis, privileged) need to shut the heck up. So, listen up on the internet. Don't be so quick to argue. And then do the same thing in real life--and if those voices aren't in your real life, you really should do something about that...

Friday, June 1, 2018

Christians that Pray together...

In the summer of 2016, I happened across a story on a local news source (very local, as in--focused on our 8000 resident town) about a community prayer meeting that would be happening every other Friday evening, and all Christians were invited. It was being spearheaded by Pastor Bryan, who was pastoring a church that I could not locate, nor did I know it even existed in Ambridge.

I showed up. And I'm happy to say that Pastor Bryan has become a friend and a stalwart partner in ministry. His vision and love for a town that very much wasn't his own put legs to something I felt as a pastor in this community. I was in.

Pastor Bryan continued to lead this effort--gathering in the park after a prayer walk, and his wife Apryl graciously leading us in singing God's praises. Besides myself, we had the local Pentecostal and Baptist pastors and folks from as many as seven different churches gathered through it all. It is a life-giving practice for the Christians in Ambridge, building relationships across denominational divides.

But God called Pastor Bryan to a new congregation outside of Ambridge earlier this year. As summer was approaching, the question was on our minds....What about community prayer? As Pastor Matt, Pastor Rick, and myself would catch up through the winter and spring second winter, we agreed to continue pushing for this role. So, Pastor Matt and I had a conversation, we scheduled it, announced it, put it out on social media and tonight, we had our first summer prayer meeting for 2018. We'll continue every first, third, and fifth (where applicable) Friday evening June-August. We are excited for what God will do, and are grateful for the power of prayer to bring God's people together. Christians that pray together, exercising the privilege of their shared baptism in water and the Spirit, are bound together in ministry--and we can do things together that extend God's Kingdom well beyond the reaches of our own congregational charisms and gifts. If Ambridge sees revival, it will be because people who love Jesus come together to call upon the Heavenly Father and pray that outpouring of the Holy Spirit will come.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The space between prayer and politics

I've always had a political mind. I was raised in the era where to be homeschooled meant you had some kind of political activism, and as a teenager, you were expected to not only know what your political philosophy was, but to actively debate it, campaign for those you supported, and recruit other people (probably too young to vote like you) to the cause. It was pretty intense, being politically active and conversant before you can even vote.

When I hit college at 17, I was burned out from it. And for the first time in my life, encountered the political theology of Anabaptists, and some of the early Church fathers...and that was about the time Derek Webb's mockingbird album came out, too. It was a time where I did incredible self-evaluation and repented of a number of political stances I had adopted in my youth. I also took up a stance of total political withdrawal. Caesar could have my prayers and the money he printed, but not me and not mine--that was for God. So, I set about focusing on prayers, and the Lord's Prayer became a huge part of my spirituality (you never mean "Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" nearly as much as you do when you believe you can't do anything about it yourself).

I do still occupy that space. But over the past decade, I've learned that being human is a political existence. It is not possible for us to withdraw entirely. Every human activity is political. That's the kind of insight that had motivated my withdrawal--the all too frequently quoted, "If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not." Even prayer is a political action. You swear by writing your Congressman? I will swear by pleading with the King of the Universe. But that ain't all....the King of the Universe has sent some messages, the Kingdom of God is breaking in, and does so among the Church...

But this isn't systematic theology.

This is my life.

I moved from being a political operative teenager to a prayerful college student and what I'm learning in these past few years is that being among the people of God means to have a voice to speak--to be a prophet. In Numbers 11, Moses wishes that all of God's people might become prophets. At Pentecost, God answers that prayer. God make us prophets again. God give us grace to speak truth to the empires of the world. God pour your Spirit out so prophets will speak in the camp and destroy the idols, rebuke the court prophets, and speak of a Kingdom coming where righteousness and peace and justice will embrace in the reign that all the kings and political schemes of the world have failed to bring and will always fail to bring.

Father in heaven,
Your Name is holy.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.
For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Moving towards justice

I've been at the #Intersection18 conference hosted by the Telos Collective, a fellowship of ministers in the Anglican Church in North America who are concerned with engaging from a stance of missional ministry and faithfulness to the tradition we have received. There's some incredible pastors, thinkers, preachers, teachers, and planters here...and I love hanging out with them. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite things (So, already looking forward to #Intersection19, #Intersection20, and #Intersection21). Bishop Todd Hunter leads it well, and does a tremendous job of bringing folks into this community to challenge. My own bishop, Bishop Jim Hobby, has been leading and engaging as well, which is a great signal to our diocese, I think.

So we've been talking about justice--and church practices that lead us into that in sacraments, cultural idolatries, worship, the arts, the public sphere, etc. And all this in the news of the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Houston, TX. In the missional leadership cohort I am part of, we were conversing and discussing all the ways these things impact our leadership, and we could only stop--and pray. Praying Psalm 56, Ephesians 6, and Scriptures from all over--praying for the reign of the Prince of Peace to cast down the powers and principalities, to bring the Spirit of comfort and solace to those who mourn, to contend with the anger and fear of our nation, and to raise up the people of God to offer a lament, to mourn with those who mourn.

We've done a lot of discussion, a lot of strategizing, and some great thinking and plotting for when we go back home. But when we prayed, and set those 15-20 minutes aside to respond to Santa Fe, not with a plan or strategy, but with coming before a God who is over the mission, that is the moment we were doing what we were called to do. That was the moment we responded exactly as missional leaders needed to. Because the arc of God's intention is certainly towards justice: to protect and exalt life for every human being, and to honor the image of God in them. And we as the people of God have a call to respond to that in repentance, to recognize that Baptism and the Table bring an end to the Other--not by destroying them, but by covenanting us to one another, and to proclaim the Gospel of Grace. But that must begin and end with us modeling the reign of Jesus in this Kingdom--interceding before the Father.

Friday, May 11, 2018

and on the 5th day, I rested

I took a Sabbath yesterday. A friend hilariously asked if I had become 5th Day Adventist. My glib response was that Sabbath has to be a moveable feast for clergy (who, for obvious reasons, would work on the weekend...). Sabbath is a struggle, though. When I was bivocational (a constant state all through adulthood until March 2018)--and I doubt it will be the last time I'm bivocational--I would periodically have to reset which day of the week was my Sabbath. It took work, intentionality, and thought. In the nearly two months since, any practice of Sabbath disappeared, as the business of ministry and other opportunities (especially offered by Lent, Holy Week, and Easter). I didn't notice, because I was for the most part sleeping right. My body had the rest it needed.

But not my brain. Not my emotions. Mentally and emotionally, I was burning out and exhausted. It's fun when you realize that and then start to think about how to address it. Since the Reformed Presbyterians spent 6 years educating meeting, Sabbath was the first thing I thought of. Then I thought about the wisdom that Bishop Trevor Walter (Anglican Network in Canada) shared with the clergy of the Pittsburgh diocese back in 2016--don't take a Sabbath the day after major ministry. For my current circumstances, that's a challenge! Sunday and Tuesday are major ministry days. Fridays and Saturdays are frequently called upon for Church and Diocesan and other ministry work.  By Bishop Trevor's advice, Mondays and Wednesdays are out...so...Thursday. The logic problem of my week meeting Sabbath left ONE option.

I deleted Facebook and Messenger, and shut off Twitter's access to data, and turned off wifi on my phone. I kept the Mail app on my laptop closed. I otherwise kept to my usual routine (wouldn't you like to know?). It was a good day. Friday morning came, I reinstalled the app, and the noise of the world outside resumed. And it's that--noise. Some of it is pleasant noise. Some of it isn't. Some of it is from people I care about, some of it is from strangers. That's no indictment, but Sabbath needs a kind of mental/emotional silence...space to be and space to not be. If you've done ministry, or are in some kind of care work, you know that the capacity to not be in someone else's life is as important as it is to be able to live your own life. Sabbath includes that, and it was a helpful thing. Looking forward to more of it in the weeks and months to come.

Friday, May 4, 2018

A year of not wanting to share.

People are familiar with that period when toddlers love "no" and "MIIIIIINNNNNEEEEEE".  It can be amusing sometimes (especially when you aren't the parent), but mostly you can't wait till they grow out of it.

In some ways, I feel like that's been me the past year. There's been so much fruit, so much ministry, and so much hanging on for dear life that, spiritually, I wasn't sure how to be. I came home from the retreat carrying wounds and needing advocates. God graciously had already provided those in my parish and diocese. After the summer, I started leaning into things I loved--scholarship, Pentecostal theology, preaching, discipleship, and helping people who were banging their heads against churchy passive-aggressiveness. I've gotten to do a lot of that this year....I've started reading again, gained a scholarly community that receives me (SPS, you folks rock!), talking the deep and shallow ends of church worship with people who love it as much as I do (where my fellow Liturgeeks at!). I've recovered the daily office, spiritual disciplines, and just receiving God's grace. It's been a crazy, active kind of convalescence.

But I also realize that in many ways, it's not allowed me to heal. The things named above are GOOD and LIFE-GIVING and I will continue in them, because of that. I also realize I need to seek some healing--to really rest, to retreat, to walk into the obscurity of the wilderness and just be before God. Be me before God. Be accepted as I am by God.  For many people, that means walking away from public eyes. In my experience of seasons of healing, though, I'm very often out in front MORE in those times than hidden. I hide when I'm wounded. I don't share, when I'm keeping that way. But when I stand out and profess, confess, de-stress and keep doing the work I'm doing, healing can happen.  You may not see what's healing, but you'll see me. That much I can promise.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

On just needing Gospel....

Anyone that knows me, knows I'm a fairly ecumenical guy. That's not in the sense of "I've got friends who worship differently than I do." That's in the sense of "I've done everything I can to enter into the traditions and communion of friends who are not from the congregations and traditions that I've been formed by." This week, I've had the opportunity to retreat at a Roman Catholic abbey that houses Trappist monks following the Rule of St. Benedict. The solitude and silence and prayer in the midst of a community was rich, restful, and the Lord began some new works in powerful ways while I was with them.

I left there and within 24 hours, I was worshipping at a Pentecostal gathering for Christians of many congregations to have serious conversation about race and gender and the Church's witness in these things in our cultural climate. This was rich, encouraging, and the Lord began some new works in powerful ways while I was with them.

But then I went elsewhere and was listening to an itinerant preacher/evangelist of an independent charismatic bent. His enthusiasm was evident. His ability to connect with his audience was a sight to behold. I talked to a few people who came from a ways away to hear him tonight. As for me? I couldn't get through it.  His preaching was disguised in the language of grace, but the demands he was making of our lives were immense. It was overwhelming. It was isolating. Many others around me were laughing, saying their amens, raising their hands, and shouting "come on!" As a priest in the Church, it was everything in me not to stand and seek to bring correction (but this was not an event I had the proper authority to do so, so I did not).

As a Christian, I found myself in need of hearing that ancient rhythm I've come to love--sin, grace, and faith. The pattern of Law and Gospel. The message that, yes, we are in fact living quite apart from the design and intentions of God, but that in Jesus, I find that the absolution and work I need has already been done. That the true self made in the Image of God has been restored. That God has created within me a wilderness through which his voice cries out repentance for me, and answers with a majestic grace. That whether in solitude and silence, or in the midst of Pentecost's re-enactment, God is lovingly present with me. And He has said it is finished. No ifs, ands, or buts. Hallelujah.

So, whether you dress it up in a black scapular or an electric guitar, every Christian really needs the same thing: the enactment of God's law, the announcement of God's absolution, and the triumph of God's grace through faith. If you're not getting that, I plead with you by the mercy of Christ, let's get you somewhere that you can hear that message. All of us preachers and pastors ultimately fail, but the Word of Christ is not bound by our failures and that grace will come through.