Friday, December 17, 2010
I'm starting to wonder, though if maybe Advent is not about learning to wait, but is more about surrendering to the mystery of what lies beyond our waiting. This is a very challenging idea, I know. I want to plan, predict and imagine the possibilities; yet, the events of the first Christmas remind me that even with all of my dreaming, I can never imagine the way that love, joy, hope and peace will break into our lives. Few would have expected it to happen in a stable, in the form of a tiny baby, or through an unwed mother.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the altar at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church looked much like a scene from the wilderness. There were no clusters of greenery, no poinsettias on display, and no Christ child anywhere to be found. In fact, even on this third week of Advent, the stable remains empty. Part of me wants to go ahead and get it over with - someone please put the baby in the manger so this stable does not look so bare! It just isn't right! I am so eager to have my expectations fulfilled; yet, truthfully, our expectations are seldom fulfilled. Sometimes we are left wanting, other times we could never have imagined things would have unfolded so wonderfully. In either case, we could never have predicted the end results of our waiting.
My prayer is that in each of our anticipations, we will have the courage to live into each moment, not dwelling on expectations, but surrendering to the One who has and who will be born again in people, places and possibilities beyond our imaginations. Instead of fostering impatience, I pray that the empty stable will prompt a greater awareness of where Christ is waiting to be born in and among us.
Blessings as we continue on our Advent journeys...
Saturday, December 4, 2010
This morning, I helped to plant the first fruit trees in a community orchard sponsored by Sustainable Springfield. Because I have a history of causing more harm than good when it comes to plants, I am crossing my fingers that these trees survive! It did not take very long, but I left with dirty hands and the anticipation of a Spring harvest.
I also left with the realization that there's something really important about putting bare hands into dirt. I realized how seldom I do it. I, like many of us learned from a young age to stay clean (particularly as a girl raised in the south), not to mess up, and to hide my messes at all cost. Somewhere in all of this avoidance of "dirt", I suppose I bought into the cliche that "cleanliness is next to godliness". I was reminded today that it is in the dirt that fruit trees take root, and that it's in the dirt of our lives that new life emerges.
This week's Old Testament Advent text from Isaiah declares that after all of the ravage of war and the estrangement from home, "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (NRSV, Isaiah 11:1). In the face of an uncertain future, the Israelites were challenged to remain hopeful and to embrace their humility as opportunity. Their deliverance would not come from a mighty king, but would come from an unlikely source - - from "dirt".
As we turn to this week's gospel reading we also find some rather primitive beginnings. John the Baptist, the prophet announcing the coming Messiah, delivers his message from the wilderness. He was described as wearing clothing made from camel's hair and eating locusts. From this setting of dust and dirt, John announces the coming of the kingdom of God.
I can's help but ask - what's up with all of this dirt? Why is it that prophets speak of and speak from places of such scarcity? Is there something instrumental about the dirt in delivering visions of peace and hope? If this is so, then all of this time of avoiding the mess has been in vain. While I've been told that "cleanliness is next to godliness", it is quite the opposite. The prophets declared that from the scarcity of the earth a Savior would be born, and the God of Advent can be found in the scarcity of our lives. The God of Advent is waiting to be born in our scarcity, in our struggles, disappointments, failures, and scandals - - may we not only see the "dirt", but have the courage to anticipate what will sprout up as we wait in hope.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I have never been good at waiting. Anyone who has given me a gift knows that I can't help trying to guess what's inside before I even begin unwrapping it. I get impatient in long lines, filled waiting rooms and after being placed on “hold”. Unfortunately, on average I (we) spend around an hour every day...waiting. For some of us, we wait even longer – for test results, for forgiveness, for employment, for something, anything to come along and move us in a new direction.
I have often heard Advent referred to as “waiting” for Christmas, as if it will unfold again just as it has every year, as if we already know exactly what it is we are waiting for. I find this very inconsistent with the true spirit of Advent. When we re-read the biblical story, we find anything but the fulfillment of pre-conceived expectations. Jesus did not come as a warrior king, he came as a defenseless baby. His parents were not wealthy aristocrats, but were poor teenagers. Jesus was not born in luxury, but in a manger, an animal trough. Those who waited for the birth of Jesus to unfold in a predictable fashion found themselves disappointed and disillusioned - he could not possibly be the One they had waited so long for!
This Advent, I am hoping to be alert to where and how God will be born again in and around me. In Signs of Emergence, Kester Brewing reminds us that we cannot wait with too many formed ideas of where and how this birth will take place, of where and how Christ will be found.
"We must stop. Wait. ...Begin to dream where God might now like to be found. Not in the house, but in a stable; not in Jerusalem, but from Nazareth; not with his family, but in the temple; not in the temple, but with the sick, the poor; the disinterested, the ordinary, the real, the drinkers, smokers, jokers, deviators, and slackers..."It is with this spirit of anticipation that I look forward to gathering with friends for the next four weeks of Advent to share in conversation, reflection and listening. We will meet at Three Layers in Springfield at 5pm (in the back room) beginning tomorrow night. As we share in great food and friendship, I am excited about how we can encourage one another to engage in the true spirit of Advent - - not simply waiting for Christmas to get here, but participating in God's re-birth in our time and place.
Thanks to Chantelle - ThousandSquareFeet for the advent calendar photo.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It happened again today when I ran into two ministers that I first met a couple of months ago. They asked me what I had been up to and I replied that I was still gathering, learning, and discerning for this new church start (they could probably hear the impatience in my tone!). They said, "us too." Although they are not starting a new work, they shared how their ministry is always a work in progress. It made sense to me and it also made me smile. Yeah, them too.
I guess the power in "me, too" is the subtle reminder that we are not alone. Somewhere deep down we tend to think we are the only ones experiencing heartache and impatience; however, "me too" reminds us that we are in the company of fellow strugglers who also feel, think and experience the ups and downs of the journey.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I have been spending a lot of time at the table lately, dining and drinking coffee with friends I am meeting along the way. It has only reinforced the idea that good food and conversation are the perfect way to form new friendships (no comments needed from those friends who are always harassing me about how strenuous this new work must be for me!). I am finding that given the opportunity, we are all longing to engage in meaningful relationships and to find a place where we experience genuine acceptance.
Yesterday, I met a woman for breakfast who shared her altered perception of God with me. We had never met, but spent a couple of hours exchanging life stories. Although she grew up in a fairly conservative religious tradition, her life's experiences had taught her that God could not possibly be confined to the limited view that was so often expressed through those in her church. While many describe themselves as spiritual, but not religious, she claimed that she was neither at this point in her journey. Then she made this powerful statement:
"I do imagine [however] that there is a Being that holds the world together and keeps us all from killing one another."
When I consider what it means to re-imagine the church, I suppose what it really means is "re-imagining God". For so long, we have allowed God to remain confined to the patriarchal imagery expressed in scripture as "Father", "King", and "Lord". While these images do convey attributes of God that are timeless, they are also limited to the ancient context in which they were first used by God's people. In other words, when we refer to God as "King" today, does that truly communicate and confess our faith in God? or by focusing too much on how people have experienced God in the past prevented us from honoring how God continues to be revealed to us today?
I think that what this new friend of mine was saying is that 'my life experiences have led me to imagine God differently and I no longer find that I fit into the church'. I can't help but wonder just how beautiful a community of faith would be if we held up not only scripture and tradition, but human experience as a valid way of talking about, worshiping and serving God. As I re-imagine the church as an inclusive community that follows Christ in seeking to love God and love neighbor, I pray that it will truly be a place where we can bring all of who we are to the table...a place where we can talk about God in ways that reflect not only an ancient perspective, but in new ways that express how we see God working in our world today.
I could not agree with this woman more - surely there is One who holds it all together!
May the One who created us all be more fully made known as we each find our place at the table!
Friday, October 8, 2010
I am reminded that words are not enough when I read this passage from Isaiah. Written to a people who often used words to complain, to worship, to recite laws and to pray, the challenge set forth in these verses is nothing less than a call to move beyond speech and engage in action. Isaiah 58 says,
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress allyour workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
When we do share “conversation” with others (and I’m talking about going beyond ‘hey, how are you?’), we discover that we all have parched places. We are all in need of healing, and according to this passage, our healing only comes when we seek justice on behalf of all who are oppressed. Let’s be honest, although we talk a good bit about wanting to move toward healing, we DO little in the scheme of things to make healing a reality. Words, it seems have become our “fast” from action.
Every day we hear stories of oppression. We hear about racial and economic discrimination, we take note of the loss of innocent life resulting from violence on our streets and in distant lands, we read about women caught in sex trafficking, and we listen to stories of how ridiculed homosexuals are killing themselves rather than endure further alienation. Yet, it seems at times that we as Christians spend more time talking about these realities, arguing bout our differences and celebrating what we have in common than ever acting on behalf of those who are naked, homeless or hungry (physically and metaphorically).
Words are not enough. We do not have time to argue over whether or not yoga is an acceptable Christian practice or which denomination gets it right, we must break the fast of inactivity and enter into a movement of anti-oppression. Only then will our parched places be satisfied, our streets be restored and the glorious light of God break forth like the dawn.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Another encounter was with a man suffering from dementia. During our conversation, he reminisced about his career and life as a minister and he kept referring to people by their race (i.e. "the blacks" and "the whites"). A black man now in his 80s, he recalled with pride his ability to cross racial boundaries to minister to and with white folks as well as black. He made several comments about how our churches should be more racially diverse, and he ended our visit by telling me that whatever I was setting out to do, it was going to happen (and he said it with great confidence!).
I love days like today, days when I am free to enjoy encounters with people unlike me, yet so much like me. So often I am too hurried to notice, attend to, or value each encounter in a given day. Today, instead of being preoccupied with thoughts of how/when/why of church starting, I lived in the moment. It's so easy to get carried away by allowing anxieties and concerns about the future to keep us from being present, but there is too much at risk by living this way. I would have missed out on a reminder that while the issue of women in ministry is important, it is inconsequential to the lives of most of the people walking through my neighborhood (duh...). I also would have missed an important reminder that longings for racial reconciliation are innate and powerful - so powerful, in fact, that they penetrate through the cob-webbed thoughts of an aging black man struggling with dementia. Sometimes I need a little perspective, and sometimes I also need to hear words of assurance (if even from a stranger) that, yes, with God's help, I can do this.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
What might happen in a church if the community admitted that we have gotten off course? that we are not really fulfilling our mission (and in some cases doing just the opposite!)? What might happen in the larger Church if we had to answer these same questions? As painful as it may be to express our struggles, experience and experts tell us that we would reap rewards. This week, I ran across the Eighth Letter, an approach to addressing the challenge we face in being church in our day. Twenty-five authors/leaders will be presenting letters written to the North American Church with what they perceive to be the most urgent message the Church needs to hear. Here is one example written by Rachel Held Evans. The organizers of this event have expressed that their intention is to "bring together people and ideas in the hopes of being a contributing catalyst for something beautifully kingdom." Judging by my limited interactions with a few of them, I believe they are seeking to bring healing and hope and not to simply foster further anti-church sentiment.
I am not sure if this is the best way to begin healing, but I do believe that expression of pain, hurt and disappointment are a necessary step in any type of healing process. We must first admit and address the problem. In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann writes,
What might happen if we engaged our prophetic imaginations? If as citizens, friends, Jesus-followers, employees and church members, we refused to pretend that problems do not exist? What if we gave speech to the injustices, fears, doubts and conflicts we faced...and allowed it to serve as a catlayst for something beautifully kingdom? It is my hope that whether it is through a letter-sharing exercise, a much needed one-on-one conversation, or a church business meeting, that we will risk ourselves to deal with conflict in a way that brings healing and leads us to a fuller confession of God as Lord.
"The task of prophetic imagination is to cut through the numbness, to penetrate the self-deception, so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord." (Brueggemann, 45)
Friday, September 10, 2010
- After my dad died in a car accident, the church did not know how to deal with my mom as a single mother. I realized the church was not who they claimed to be.
- My wife and I grew up hearing about what terrible people we were...all we ever felt was guilt and shame. Who needs that? We consider ourselves "spiritual" people, but have not darkened the church doors in a very long time.
- My mom was divorced and that was looked down upon in our church. When I saw how she was treated, I decided church was not for me.
These are just a few examples. Although I realize that sometimes our expectations of community can be unrealistic, it saddens me to think that a community founded on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ has left this mark on people's lives.
The recognition of the power of community has prompted some recovering church-goers to form an online friendship that seems to be a source of healing. Communitas Collective is full of shared stories of pain and struggle, but also of hope and re-imagination. Although many people have left the institutional church, they are seeking ways to follow God AND they are still seeking community. If you've never visited this site, I encourage you to visit and listen to the conversation that's taking place. I am encouraged by the honesty, the vulnerability and the passion that I sense among this group. It makes me wonder what would happen if churches today would dare to ask their neighbors who have left the church "why?". Perhaps then we would have the opportunity to listen, to begin to heal and to imagine our future together.
Friday, September 3, 2010
One of my favorite people in the world used to preface what he would say with the words, "The truth of the matter is...". When he said this, you knew he was about to say something really important, kind of like "here's the bottom line, folks." I've been thinking about the truth of the matter as it relates to my calling to plant a new faith community. As much as I love fostering relationships, the compelling motivation for church planting is not forming a social network (although I believe Jesus did do this). As much as I love hearing stories of pioneering people who are revitalizing a neighborhood, the compelling motivation for church planting is not to affirm the renewal of a community (although I believe that Jesus was all about renewal). To use a line from my former pastor and friend, Dr. Jack Snell, "the truth of the matter" is my desire to participate in helping the gospel take root in people's lives through the formation of grace-filled community. It is my hope that as this faith community takes shape, it will not only help transform a neighborhood, but that it will be committed to making disciples who are passionate about loving and serving God and neighbor.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Growing up, Springfield had a reputation for being overrun with drugs, violence and prostitution. In fact, the only time I remember visiting Springfield was when I attended the funeral of a friend's dad who had pastored a church in the neighborhood. Today, incredible work is being done to revitalize community and to maintain the economic diversity that contributes to its rich heritage. There are new businesses moving in, non-profits enabling people to care for themselves and their neighborhood, and residents restoring beautiful old Victorian homes. If you want to read more about historic Springfield, check out http://www.myspringfield.org/.
Even with all the new life that is emerging, there are still many residents who struggle in poverty, joblessness, lack of education, mental illness and addiction. Conversation with community leaders has revealed that many churches have moved into the neighborhood to offer charity to those in need. Charity, however, does not typically generate self-sufficiency and has done little to contribute to long-term quality of life. Charity often creates a one-way relationship in which the giver says, "I have what you need and you have nothing to offer me". Sometimes charity is not the appropriate response, yet it's how we as Christians have been taught to offer care (and I believe our motivations are not ill-intentioned at all!). We are comfortable giving, but have much more difficulty engaging in the difficult and long-term work of friendship and empowerment.
As I consider fostering a faith community in Springfield, I wonder how inviting people into "friendship" instead of extending charity might make a difference. According to Robert Lupton in Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, "Friends are people who know each other, who care, respect, struggle, and are committed through time." Friends look one another in the eye and see not only their differences, but their similarities. While this sounds wonderful, you and I both know that friendship is not easy, particularly when we each carry with us a set of ideas and experiences that impact the way we perceive the other.
How might church be different if it began with friendship? What would it look like to have rich, poor, white, black, straight, gay gathered together to worship the God who created us all and invites us all to participate in God's kingdom? What would it look like if we could unite around our common faith in God and our common desire to transform a neighborhood? My prayer is that these kinds of communities will continue to take root all around us, and that they will allow us to see and experience God's kingdom in our midst.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The past couple of weeks have been all about moving into our new home in Jax. and trying to get settled before our girls started back to school. I have been reminded of how much I dislike packing, unpacking, moving furniture and redecorating. It seems like the work is never done.
Unfortunately, moving is not a one time event. Our culture invites us into a life of constant activity and motion. We are invited to respond to work, family, friendship, church, and a host of other commitments. At times, our movement becomes chaotic and purposeless and we find ourselves achieving little more than driving ourselves crazy.
Jesus models another way. He models for us a way of both moving and being still. He not only found solace away from activity, but he demonstrated a way of being present and connected to the Divine in a variety of interactions. Others have modeled this to me as well; despite constantly moving, their spirits are still and ready to receive the graces of God that nourish, guide and compel us. It may be only a shift in perspective or attitude, but we can move and not be hurried and we can travel and still be at home.
This is so important for me to remember as I go about the work of planting a new faith community. I am learning that the work is never done - there are always more phone calls, emails, books, meetings, and details that need my attention. Truthfully, I need to keep moving, learning and accomplishing; yet, I also desperately need to be still. I need to be still in my spirit, and to stay connected to the God who called me into this ministry.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I believe this is the type of ministry Jesus modeled during his life and ministry. Jesus was all about people, relationships and responding to needs. He was led by God to many different people and places, and he responded to each need with wisdom and care. I dream of leading a church to be on mission in this way - a church that is about people, relationships and responding to need; a church that not only cares for souls, but for lives; a church that listens and goes where they sense God leading them.
The ceremony today was closed by the youth being challenged to "keep dreaming!" They were told they can do anything they dream of doing. What a great message for any of us ... whether it be dreams of a new church movement or a new job opportunity, we must not lose hope as we continue life's journey.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Perhaps one of the most overwhelming parts of church starting is the financial aspect. I have spent some time creating a rough budget for what I project will be some of our expenses. Determining expenses, estimating my personal income needs, and considering fund-raising goals has been very uncomfortable for me. While I know that church starting does in part rely on the financial generosity of others, there is part of me that wants to cringe when the financial considerations are the first to surface when people hear of my sense of calling to church planting.
I think that some of my resistance to this mind-set has to do with my widening vision of the fundamentals of "church." While for most of my growing up years, church meant buildings, programs, and well-paid staff, lately I have been calling those assumptions into question. While such needs may become necessary, it bothers me that they are considered fundamental. As I dream of what the church can and should be, I am not considering anything a "given", including the necessity for abundant financial resources.
I want to go a step further. Maybe these tough financial times indicate the ideal time to start a new church. As people have faced loss of jobs, homes, and financial security, perhaps this is the ideal time for a new community of faith to emerge that invites people into the story of God's great love - a love that does not exclude us based on our economic status or anything else, but rather calls us into a life of dependence on God. Despite the financial hurdles that we will no doubt face, I pray for eyes to see the church as a community of those in need, not a place dependent on a good economy for its success.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I have also seen this theme revealed in scripture. Many of God's followers left much behind in response to God's guidance. Jesus himself traveled from place to place with little evidence of carrying many belongings with him. Ultimately, Jesus and some of his loyal followers would lose their very lives. We find these words in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:
21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In my life's journey, I have chosen to lose once again. I have chosen to begin down what I have been told will be a stressful, lonely, difficult road. I have decided to be a church planter, but more than that I have decided to start a faith community that follows the way of Christ. This means it will not be entertainment-driven. It will not be about giving people easy answers. It will not be a community that is defined by programs and buildings. It WILL be a community that includes everyone. It will be a community that loves deeply. It will be a community that speaks boldy on behalf of the oppressed. It will be a community that continues the life and ministry that was begun by Jesus.
I am aware that I have chosen a difficult road. It is not always the popular way and it does not always draw the masses, but I believe that the way of "lose"(rs) is also the way of Jesus. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." As I leave behind some old patterns and begin new ways of being church, I am eager to see when and where I will see experience the wonder of new life.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
What led us home is even more surprising than being back. After struggling to discern a direction for my future in ministry, we decided that an opportunity to start a new faith community in the Jacksonville area would be the next step. My love for the church, my desire to pastor and my passion for finding new ways to be church together have led us down this path. (there will be much more to come about this in future posts!)
So, I am beginning again. Although I am in a familiar place, I am NOT in a familiar place. I am beginning a new leg of the journey that will demand courage, persistence and commitment to my calling. As intimidating as that sounds, I am reminded today of how thankful I am for a God who goes with us wherever we go. I am reminded that God continues to create new life and new opportunity to respond to God's invitation to begin again. Thanks be to God for new beginnings!