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.

Friday, February 24, 2017

New Beginnings

Birth. Baptism. First day of school. Confirmation. First date. Commencement. First day on the job. Engagement. Marriage. These are the kinds of things we associate with new beginnings. They're milestones, celebrations-- marks of life flourishing. But the reality of the world we find ourselves in is that there is also divorce. Getting fired. Flunking out. Rejection. Loss of friendship, family, community. Death. And they have a way of discoloring, tainting and ruining the things that began.

And it creates another kind of death in us: a death in aspirations and energy--a death of hope. Sometimes even the death of identity. Being Pentecostal gave me a strong grasp of seasons....I heard many prophetic declarations about seasons and times in my growing up years. There was always excitement and anticipation for those moments. And usually within a day or a week, that was replaced with disappointment because sin, death, and the work of the devil had a way of working themselves into that brand new thing.

And there's no stopping that from happening, at least not on our terms. But the whole narrative of the Scriptures is thrust in this idea that the End will be a new beginning. "See, I make all things new!" is the declaration of Jesus to a creation broken and bound. "If anyone is in Christ-- New Creation" is the guarantee of the Spirit-inspired Apostles. So where's it at?

I'm not really delving into the complexities of Christian debates about being conformed to Christ, but I think a critical adjustment to my experience of this newness came when I started attending a church worshipping with the liturgy. Because every week, we confessed our sins together. Then the priest announced God's absolution...and that absolution closed with the phrase "newness of life." I knew how I was hearing that: a call to holiness, to being different than I was, and while I wouldn't argue with the presence of holiness of a sort resulting from God's work in us, I started to wake up to something else--because the promise of newness in the absolution seemlessly moved to the Comfortable Words: "Jesus said, 'Come to Me, all you weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." The promise of newness pointed to a call to rest with Jesus.

A few years later, a teaching assistant who corrected my assignments in seminary shared an insight about the days of creation that stayed with me: humanity is created on "day 6." What time was there to do any work? The crown of creation and God's declaration of "very good" comes as the last bit of work, and then God declares a day of rest--a day that humanity shared in, despite having done nothing. 

I say all that to say...in our sin, and in our work, and in the tensions and challenges and calls we face, we need newness. And we need it often. Newness follows on the heels of confession (if the issue is sin) or an acknowledgement of inability to get it all done or right or perfect (whatever it may be). The Law of new beginnings shows me I'm not enough. The Gospel of new beginnings let's me say "You're right", and enter rest. Because after each rest, new work begins and new attempts are made, and at the end of the day, over every single effort, the word of Jesus stands true: It Is Finished.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Inputs Abounding--Outputs Thriving

It's taken me many years to understand myself well enough to know what I need to do.

To rest. To work.

To love. To be loved.

To create. To admire.

To set boundaries. To make some efforts at discipline.

To make friends. To be be alone.

In the past year, I've had refreshing moments of learning and lots of moments where I'm pouring everything I have and know into doing my work and rest. I've sought to have constructive outlets-- to journal, confide in my spiritual director, lean on my friends, inform my intercessors, to blog and write, to preach and teach, and occasionally just trying to get a good joke in there somewhere.

But the outputs felt forced, like I was lacking in inspiration. Things weren't flowing like they needed to. It wasn't until this past week, as I've set up a phone upgrade I was able to cash in on to play podcasts I've missed--thoughtful things by friends in higher education, ministry, and other scenarios-- that I was able to realize that I was lacking serious, regular input in multiple directions. Reading actually is more exciting when I know I'm getting content in other ways (like podcasts). And on the 15th of this month, I'll benefit from some assessment and coaching (MCore). My outputs are already improving.

Funny thing....for someone who loves extremes in so many ways, and can't stand boring stasis, God's created me to be someone that thrives best in the midst of stability and routine. It's a fun paradox, but I love getting to explore it as I seek God.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Zaki's Great Exchange

Many will remember the childhood Bible song...

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he. 
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see...

I make no apologies for the fact it is now stuck in your head. My Arabic-speaking friends call this guy Zaki. I like it. So I will use that name. But Zaki is immortalized for being short. As my friend Stevan Betcher pointed out in his sermon at Church of the Savior, though, Zaki was a tax collector--a public ally known "sinner" of Jericho. He didn't push through the crowd because someone might have stabbed him. Zaki is the Despised One in every sense. So he takes a safer, more memorable path to get a good look at Jesus. 

And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in that sycamore tree. 
And he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house today."

What the song doesn't go on to say is what Jesus does: the crowd's contempt for Zaki goes away. And the contempt for Jesus shows up. JESUS becomes the Despised One. Jesus takes Zaki'/ place as the resident "sinner" in Jericho. And Zaki becomes the one who is generous, who brings justice, who demonstrates grace to those who despised Him. It's the foretaste of the Great Exchange that would take place at the Cross. Jesus shows up. He frees Zaki. And Zaki now has a new identity and a new life. Let's embrace the scandal of our exchange.