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. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Recovery

So, just two weeks ago, I had surgery. It was outpatient and relatively minor, but it involves six weeks of recovery: no lifting anything over 15 lbs., walking instead of running, no exercise of any kind, wearing a large binder/flexible belt around my torso, etc. In my better moments--most of the time--everything feels normal (with the exception of the binder, but it's getting to be normal). But about 10,000 steps into the day, and I start to feel it: a pinch or burn from the stitches, a mild burning, or a muscle spasming just ever so slightly. I'm not whole. I'm not strong. I'm not where I need to be.

But, somehow, what's necessary for my healing has been placed. It's done.  But the groans of the healing continue. As I've been reflecting on this, it has a lot connected with the way that the life of Jesus plays out in our life. Everything necessary for my salvation--the new birth of my spirit, the renewal of my mind and heart, the future resurrection of my body--has been done once and for all by Jesus. It's given. It's granted. The "surgery" of grace by repentance, forgiveness, faith, the love of God, and the blessed hope, has been done, but the groans of the healing continue.

Some days, I see the fruits of repentance in my life. Some days, I'm aware of what God's grace has done. There are moments of unshakeable faith that I really get surprised by after the fact, but feel just so natural at the time. And then there's pains-- sin that still seeks to cling so closely, or the natural brokenness of life in a sin-crushed world, like sickness or insomnia, or depression, you name it. And it's in those moments, that I need to look forward to the end of recovery: resurrection. The work has been done by the Great Physician, but the healing He is doing is ongoing, and He will finish it in a glorious way...and I'll finally be myself. I'll be whole, strong, and exactly who He made me to be all along.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Re-Entry Burns, Bruises, and Blues

I've always been one who is very public about what I'm doing in ministry. I'm open about the excitement, the plans and hopes, and the downsides. That was certainly the case while I was in Germany, updating some 100+ people multiple times in the week about ministry news, needs, and ways to pray and intercede for myself and the team. I've continued to request their prayers this week for the purposes of "re-entry."

For those who've ever done any kind of cross-cultural mission, education, or extended time abroad, you know what is meant by re-entry. For others, you may be more familiar with the concept of "culture shock" and the stresses that introduces to people as they adjust to new places, people, concepts, customs and needs. Re-entry is the process that someone goes through when they return to their host culture and have to go back to their previous cultural context. It can be emotionally-taxing, physically tiring, spiritually challenging, and mentally exhausting. Self-care in those times, is at a premium.

But there are also responsibilities. Life did not pause in my absence. Ministry did not pause in my absence. So I'm bumpily sorting my way through things that I need to take back up now that I've returned. I'm starting to juggle again, and I'm dropping the ball fairly frequently. It's frustrating, but it's part of the process. It's taking me some extra motivation to talk myself into normal things I do all the time. And I've found I'm more sensitive to slights and annoyances than usual, too. It's all par for the course.

In general, re-entry can take many about 1/3 of the time they were in the cross-cultural setting. For me, that's seven days. So, I'm pushing through the adjustments, demands, and trying to take the pacing and timing I need through Saturday. The lesson in discipleship with this is pretty straightforward: everything has a cost, and rest is not an option--it's a gift, so do everything in your power to receive it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review: Darkness is my Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Green-McCreight

I've spent a lot of time around mental illness. Whether learning about depression because of family history and the symptoms of the thyroid condition I was diagnosed with when I was 18, or from people I care about walking in the valley of the shadow of death, it's not a topic that is alien to me. So, when I asked for this book from Brazos, I was desperate for Greene-McCreight to help me make sense of some things.

But I put most of it off. Until Germany. And what a read. Greene-McCreight herself suffers from mental illness. But her Prayerbook-obedient, hymn-riddles, expose of life with illness is filled with beauty and a conviction of the beauty of God's gospel and Word. She lets you into the stream of consciousness of her experience, the needs from the community (laity, clergy, etc.), and the process of seeming treatment (including medication, therapy, and hospitalization).

Greene-McCreight is an Episcopal priest. She is intensely orthodox, in love with the Gospel of Jesus, and I think her book proves to be an invaluable tool for the care and cure of souls (and perhaps self-care) for all ministers. For those with mental illnesses, there is grace and understanding of the experience that offers much comfort. She candidly addresses her personal journey, with an openness that is very healing and instructive  Pastors, read this book. Learn. Deal gently with the ones who suffer from illness.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

When the Anglican leads Pentecostal prayer meetings....

I make no secret about my Pentecostal background and continuing Pentecostal convictions. I've long regarded it as a blessing and critical part of how I know God. I pray in tongues. I expect miraculous healing. I've received prophecies, words of knowledge, and I've operated with discernment of spirits and exorcism. I'm also an Anglican. I pray the daily office. I follow a lectionary. I attend Sunday Eucharist. One of my favorite prayer practices is the Great Litany.

I recently took an assessment from the book Sacred Pathways.  This rightly identified me as a "traditionalist"--I relate to God through Christian traditions. Second, it said I prefer sensate experiences (also true). But shockingly, tied with sensate, was "contemplative." I--for all my activity and experiential spirituality that are so external to myself--am ultimately crafted by God to be someone who is content in being present with God.  It's been a corrective and helpful thing for my self understanding and learning to lead well from my strengths in the traditions I've been formed in.

This morning in Hamburg, I led the CPx team in "equipping prayer." We gathered in groups to pray together and confess sin, experience God's forgiveness, be clothed by God (Eph. 6:10-20). We submitted to the Holy Spirit, ask for God to reveal his will and empower us according to the needs of our calls, and above all that we would understand more of the love of God in Christ.  It was powerful, and I experienced healing and God's delight in a fresh way.

I learned the model of this prayer used from a godly Anglican bishop. Half the participants in this prayer time are Anglicans. Tonight, we'll say the liturgical prayers and celebrate Communion. And the Spirit will move in power then too.

And I love every bit of it.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

You're Home

So I'm writing from Germany. I'm here with four other men from my parish. As well as a group of other men and women from around the world. We're doing CPx--Church Planting Experience--and serving some of the least, the last, and the lost in Hamburg. Because God is really doing something new in Germany and it's exciting.

I love missions. I thought church planting would basically end my capacity to participate in them but apparently that's not God's intention at all. In fact, as I've been listening to God since my arrival, most of what He has been saying sounds a lot like "You're home."

You're home. I heard these words before--when I went to Jos. And when I left there I was sure I wanted to spend a few years there. It's possible that door has closed. I don't know. But I also heard it coming to Hamburg. And I'm more than comfortable here, too. Much as I was in Jos. It's a strange and scary thing, but I'm as comfortable (and sometimes more) abroad as I am in my own home.

My ears perk up at every opportunity abroad: a position for clergy in expat churches in the UAE or Germany, a new mission in Nigeria, a friend wanting to reopen a cathedral in Somaliland if he can find the right priest. It makes me want to jump right in.

But I have a mission and call: the Village Church. There's a church to plant there. And no, I won't be here for ever. But I've got plans and another sense of call (two actually). So I shove these visions to the back of my mind. But what if? What about it? What am I missing?

I don't know yet. But I'm here till July 29. And at least until then, I'm home.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

#TeamIronMan, #TeamCap, and the Power of the Law

I'm a late-blooming fan of comic books. Actually, you could say that I've not really arrived as a fan yet, since I still don't read comic books. But I love the Marvel movies (DC has some good ones--I'll admit, but the fan-love isn't as universal for me), and particularly I love the way the Marvel movies wrestle with human flaws in the face of problems that are already too big to handle (human ego, conflict, and agendas notwithstanding). (No spoilers unless you didn't watch trailers)

Captain America: Civil War is no exception. It may actually be the best to come out of the Marvel studios yet. The division of an entire fan base into #TeamIronMan and #TeamCap (and those thoughtful souls who remained undecided) has created an entirely new kind of conversation in the comic book mainstream (of course, the comic book elite were discussing these things years ago). That conversation might take begin with the rights and privileges of heroes, and who gets to judge them, but it's filled with the nitty-gritty of human life: friendship, loyalty, conflict, leadership, revenge, and the ever-elusive notion of forgiveness.

My friend Ivan reflected well on being #TeamCap, and unyielding commitment to second-chance grace. Full disclosure: Cap definitely has that quality. That said, I went as #TeamIronMan and came home more convinced that I belonged to #TeamIronMan. Because the kind of grace and the kind of one-way love that can rescue Cap's friend, Bucky, cannot come from being held "not responsible" by his friend. It's admirable, loving, and a testimony to the power of friendship, but it isn't the whole story.

Civil War doesn't stand on its own-- there are are host of films that provide its wider context: two Captain America films, three Iron Man films, and two Avengers films (to say nothing of Ant-Man and the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). 

There's a long history already in place of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark trying to find their right place in the world and to understand their responsibilities and liabilities. They're two otherwise all-too-human men wrestling with the "weight of the mask" and they come to two radically different opinions on it. For Steve, the mask is his absolution, his call, his tool to use again and again to save a world he's still rediscovering. For Tony, the mask offers no such freedom and the power that it represents weighs him down (which is on full display in Iron Man 3); instead of absolution, it's the source of guilt and condemnation.

A lot has gone into making Civil War into Iron Man vs. Captain America. The trailers pivot on the heart-rending exchange of Steve and Tony:

 And we could stand around arguing their respective virtues, the rightness of their political philosophies and ethics, and generally cool abilities. But judging between these heroes is just plain dissatisfying, and doesn't do any service to the story. Because the real conflict isn't in vindictive statements, but in actual guilt. Tony, Bucky, and other heroes have a burden of guilt and responsibility. What makes me #TeamIronMan started with a general loyalty to the character. What closed the deal for me is the unwavering awareness of guilt Tony has--whatever the legal realities. Tony Stark knows that he is a man under the Law, and that under that Law, he stands condemned.

What's the fundamental difference between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark? Well, in their actions--and the consequences of death, loss and (to use a movie word) catastrophe, there isn't really a difference. But their confessions are a bit different, and while I am loathe to suggest that Steve Rogers is saying the prayer of the Pharisee, his self-justification has just enough of a tinge of "I thank you that I am not like other men" to deny the Law. What Tony Stark (and Bucky Barnes!) "get" is that they are responsible--culpable--for the things they have done, whether or not they were free to choose otherwise. Whether Steve will ever hear the voice of the Law and realize his own helplessness remains an open question--but his belief in the stalwart goodness of the human individual will have a high cost, if not.

So, I stay with #TeamIronMan because Bucky Barnes isn't the only one who needs a word of grace. Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, and any number of the Avengers (whether or not they were in Civil War) are "hugging the cactus" and what they desperately need--like the rest of us--is radical absolution and one-way love to confront their guilt and set them free. That word isn't there for them in Civil War, but for the sake of all of us who have labored under guilt and tried to do good, I hope they get those Comfortable Words soon.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
"If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2