Friday, July 19, 2013

The nagging voice called "Courageous"

One of the challenges of a new church start is finding the right space to call home.  While we have been settled in the same space for awhile, I am always on the look out for something more permanent, something better suited for all we dream of doing.  On Wednesday of this week, I met with the owner of a building that has been waiting for renovation.  A former neighborhood grocery store, there are still empty refrigeration coolers filling this now over-crowded makeshift storage room.  I have driven by this building a thousand times, and have always wanted to see the inside.  Upon entering, one of my first thoughts was wow, this is a ton of space.  It is roughly 5 times as much space as we now occupy for our Sunday morning worship gatherings.

As I often do, I began imagining the potential and I began day-dreaming of the many ways we could bring this place to life. I envisioned how we could have more room for our children to learn and grow, more space for hosting community groups and more room for storing all of the equipment we set up and tear down every week.  And, so on and so on.   Just as I had decided to quiet that daring and dreamy voice and to listen to the more practical side, I heard a familiar phrase that came from deep within my heart and mind.

It's a phrase I've heard a lot lately, and one that if I'm honest, scares me quite a bit.  I've heard it as I've been in conversation with friends, in discernment meetings, and in the books I'm reading.  I've heard it in scripture, in sermon preparation and in quiet moments of prayer and reflection...

Think bigger.  Think bigger.  Think bigger.

I have to admit it's really starting to get on my nerves.  After all, I left my career, moved away to pursue a calling into ministry and said yes to starting a new church from scratch.  As a woman living in a pretty conservative city in the South, isn't that big enough?  

Apparently not.

I don't know exactly what this bigger thing is, but I have some ideas.  I have a hunch it will require me to stop second-guessing myself.   I have a feeling it will cause me to listen to the voice inviting me to risk doing something beyond my capabilities.  It has everything to do with the courage to act on the belief that God is capable of doing something even bigger than what I can even ask or imagine.

I have often joked with our church that I am an idealist, and at times have used that line to minimize what I am about to say.  It's almost like I am apologizing to them for having to endure the dream, idea or possibility I want to share.  The truth though, is that I do believe God has given me (us) a dream, and I need to stop apologizing for it.  I have a deep sense that God wants to use us to help restore a community, that God wants to use us to help restore the church, and that God wants to use us to retell a story of Love that has been misrepresented and manipulated for too long.  We won't do it perfectly and it will be overwhelming at times, but we will never realize this dream without taking some risky steps in it's direction.

I will never help us realize this dream, if I do not help lead us in this direction.

I began this year by naming courageous as my word for the year.  Looking back, there have been times when I have worn this word well.  I trained and completed a 15K, we moved our family into Springfield, I've dared to  begin life coaching, and I have had far more fierce conversations than in the past.  I'm learning to let fear be an okay thing, yet not letting it have the final say.  I'm glad there's still another five months to go, though because I sill need some practice.  I still need to trust the voice that says think bigger, and to let the dream become the vision that guides me forward. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Belief and belonging

During her first week of brushing up on church history, writer Rachel Held Evans began a blog list of learnings with this statement: "Christians have never been in full agreement when it comes to theology."  In Worlds Within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity, Paul Jones writes,
There is no such thing as the Christian faith, in the sense of anything resembling a common, agreed upon substance of belief held as a uniform center by those calling themselves Christian.  Currently there are more than two hundred fifty recognized denominations, which together weave the tapestry called American Christianity.
I am comforted and challenged by these reminders.  I've been reminded lately that no matter how clear we are about our mission and values, churches wind up being a collection of such a variety of individuals.  We bring our many experiences, backgrounds, personalities, and previous church histories with us.  We see God, scripture, life and ministry from different angles. It's what makes things lovely and beautiful...and very difficult.

The question on my mind is just how much theological diversity faith communities can handle without a disruption in fellowship.  Is there a way of being church in which the lines that have been drawn in the sand splitting so many faith groups, congregations, and denominations can be avoided?

Theological diversity is nothing new as Jones affirms, "What is new in our era, then, is not the fact of diversity but the call of the church to celebrate this diversity in a gesture of rare and expectant honesty" (p.36).

New and existing congregations have the opportunity to be safe places of belonging, where we can wrestle with our beliefs, honestly express our different perspectives and still practice the way of Jesus together.  We have the opportunity to express the gospel in our context as we say no to allowing differences to divide us and yes to peace and love toward each other.  Instead of huddling together with a homogeneous group of like-minded followers, we have the chance to work out our beliefs with fear and trembling.

That is good news for those who think they have to believe before they belong.
That is good news for churches.
That is good news for all of us, if only we would dare to embrace it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

hope, freedom & sacred space

I encountered the question what is sacred space? recently, and it has caused me to do some thinking.  Last Sunday at The Well, I shared a brief response to that question.  I experience sacred space as the place where one's true self and God meet, I said.  It is a place of attention and openness to God's presence.  It can happen anywhere, and can stir us toward a spontaneous response of some sort.

Over the past couple of months, as we have moved through the book of Acts, we have explored the ways that the Spirit of God has broken numerous barriers.  Fear, (over)certainty, and roadblocks were all encountered by post-resurrection followers of Jesus trying to share the good news.  As we have shared the ways we too have met, and at times overcome barriers on our journeys, it seemed fitting to come together for a night of celebration.  The idea was to create space for those who may not have paused to see or to celebrate a broken barrier, and to offer all of us room to be encouraged by these shared stories.

We shared a potluck dinner together, and then gathered in the backyard for a time of listening and sharing.  There were children (and pets) running around, no scripts or worship orders, and an unruly fire pit mixed with wind that kept blowing smoke in our direction.  As person after person began to offer up their broken barriers, words of hope were mixed with sadness and fear.  Addictions, anxiety and abuse were named.  Even in the overcoming of difficult circumstances, there were regrets, fears of relapse and the humility of owning our own stories.  It was messy and beautiful at the same time.  It was so real. God was evident in difficult details and in hope-filled futures.

It was sacred space.

During the remainder of this week, I have experienced a raised awareness of God's presence.  In conversations with my children, in encounters with strangers, in moments of relaxation and in quiet moments of prayer, I have been more mindful of God at work.  The faith community that I am part of has helped remind me that God stirs, calls, and moves beyond our control.  God is present and moving through the fears, uncertainties, as well as in the celebrations along the way.  In our willingness to bring the details of our lives to one another and to God, we encounter hope and freedom for the days ahead.

I wonder...

Where and how are you encountering sacred space?  

How is it nourishing you for the journey ahead?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Broken Hearts and Crazy Love

open heart: by marianne konvalinka

There are never any words sufficient to address the senseless acts of violence that are happening too frequently in our world.  Our instinct as human beings is to somehow try and make sense of it all, to find an explanation, to express our concern and prayers, and ultimately to get even.  However we respond, we are still left with a bunch of questions, and most of them begin with why...

Why, at the finish line of a marathon, of all places?
Why intentionally inflict this kind of pain on fellow human beings?
Why have we not moved beyond this kind of barbaric, violent way of dealing with our differences?
Why, why, WHY?

Even those in the church have tried to come up with some sort of theological explanation.  Unfortunately, there are those who insist that God is behind the scenes using such tragedies as acts of judgement against God's own creation.  There are those who claim Satan did it, free will allows it and God chooses not to intervene through it.  While there is a time to seek understanding, that time is not in the midst of raw pain, intense shock and inconsolable grief.

So, how can we respond as human beings?
How do we respond as those who claim to be followers of the risen Christ?

I suppose I should not assume that we will respond at all.  After all, if there is no tangible way made available, we will likely go about our lives feeling and doing little to counter such horrific realities.  Sure, we will post some kind, thoughtful words on Facebook and offer up our prayers, but  any kind of active, ongoing response is doubtful.  We know this is just the way things are, and if we are honest, we have grown accustomed to images of war, bombings and injustice that flow through our computers and TVs.

We are no longer moved.  Our hearts are no longer broken.

For those who know me, you know I can not stand easy, trite responses to the incredible sufferings that happen in and around us.  Sometimes, this leads me to say and do nothing at all.  This morning, though, as I ran through my neighborhood, I was searching my mind for possible (and appropriate) responses to yet another crazy tragedy.  After finding flaw with almost all of our usual half-hearted attempts, that's when it came to me.

The only appropriate response to insane, senseless, heart-breaking acts of violence are insane, senseless, heart-healing acts of love.

Crazy, I know, but stay with me for a minute.  We can never explain away, kill off or make sense of the awful evils that continue to threaten our lives and spirits.  When will we learn that neat explanations and calculated revenge are no match for insane and unrelentless evils? If that is the case, then what are we left with?  I think we know deep down, but it is perhaps the most difficult of all of our options.

The only appropriate response is love.  

I'm not talking about the cautious, calculated, safe kind of love we are prone to extend.  Rather, I am talking about the kind that Jesus talked about and lived - the kind that showed up as he ate and drank with strangers, the kind that showed up in the stories he told, the kind that looks like foot washing and forgiveness, like words of love while hanging from a cross.  I'm not talking about the come to us and we will help you kind of love, it's the kind that goes with people in the midst of their hurt and pain and offers a no-strings-attached presence.  It's the spontaneous, there's nothing in it for me kind of love that lets people know that they are loved and valued children of God.  It's the I don't have the words to say, but I will be with you kind of love that meant more to us than anything when we were the ones suffering.

In the midst of our feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, is there anything that we can do to counter the senseless violence that plagues us?

Yes.  We can follow the One who showed us how to respond in the face of unspeakable violence.  He chose to love in a way that made no sense.  He suffered and died for that love, but he also experienced resurrection.  I can not think of no greater way to live or to die than in extending wide open arms of love.  It's crazy, I know.  Some say it's complete foolishness, but I believe it is the way to abundant and everlasting love.

So, I suppose I am inviting you to join me in doing something a little senseless today -
leave behind the explanations,
the brainstorming of solutions,
the blaming,
and the fascination with media coverage
and do something
in the name of Love.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Between darkness and light

Last night, our church family gathered around a fire and recounted the story of Christ's crucifixion. We entered the darkness of that night as we prayed, sang and reflected on our own acts of betrayal.  We considered how we are called to enter into the suffering of those around us, and how we are called to be part of the new community that formed among those who dared to follow Jesus to the cross.  As we heard Jesus' last words and of the giving up of his spirit, the Christ candle was extinguished and black cloth was draped around the cross.  The sun had set, and the fire struggled to stay lit.  Darkness was everywhere.

Tomorrow, followers of Jesus will come together to celebrate the miracle of his resurrection.  The One we watched suffer and endure execution will be brought back to life!  We will feast together, sing songs of praise, and hear the joyful re-telling of the empty tomb encounter.  We will be filled with wonder, amazement and anticipation of all that this life-giving God has and will do.  When morning comes, light and life will consume us.

So, what about today?  What will come of this Holy Saturday, the day between darkness and light?

In all honesty, this day is probably like most of our days.  It is a day between despair and joy, between defeat and victory, between darkness and light.  It is how we spend most of our days; we are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  It is a day like many in which our longing, restlessness, anxiety and impatience can overshadow any anticipation that God may actually do a new thing.

If this is so, then maybe we ought to pay closer attention to this Holy Saturday.  Maybe we should be more attentive and more vigilant in our waiting.

Instead of trying to find ways to fill the days between, we could be looking and listening for signs that light is indeed about to break through the darkness.  We could be more willing to sit in quiet and stillness.  We could become more open to the kind of expectancy that we hear in the words of the psalmist ...

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope; 
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

I pray that you and I will be open to being shaped by this day, and the many other days we spend living between darkness and light.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Refusing to settle

Despite evidence that change is needed, I've often wondered why groups or organizations continue status quo, ineffective, better-than-nothing-but-not-quite-who-we-said-we-wanted-to-be practices. I think I've finally figured out why.  It should have been obvious from what I have experienced in my own life.  I know first hand that change is tough, that giving things up I've grown accustomed to can be painful no matter how much I know I need to move on.  I guess I just assumed that instead of groups of people having to struggle harder to change, they would have access to greater power to move in new directions.  That is not necessarily true.

What I'm really talking about here is the challenge of being intentional.  I'm talking about the challenge of critiquing potentially empty, tired, ineffective, even harmful ways of being church together.  I'm talking about the challenge of consistently asking questions about why, how, when and with what resources we should express the gospel in a way that is true to the life and message of Jesus.  I'm talking about the challenge of constantly trying to creatively form and shape a faith community around its shared vision and mission.

It's just a not-so-small matter that can effect everything we do, from the structures we create to the message we proclaim.  The place and way we worship, how we structure ourselves, spend our resources, talk about God, involve our children, etc., etc.  All of these things matter, and all of them require time and thought.  Maybe that's why being intentional can be such demanding, exhausting work.

I've begun to realize just how deeply ingrained our way of doing church is.  Church as a place to go, a service to attend, a business to run, a club to join or church as a predominantly consumer-driven/feel-good/don't rock the boat mentality can be pretty stubborn mindsets to unhinge.  Breaking free can be a long, tiring and sometimes painful journey.  Just when you think things are starting to move in new directions, you confront another way that we are stuck.

The struggle to be intentional about breaking free from old, ineffective patterns effects all of us at times.  Whether you are the pastor of a 200 year-old church, a church planter or a professional trying to change the culture in your work place, you feel it.  At times it is overwhelming  and the task of moving in a new direction can seem impossible.  It's then that we have a decision to make.  We can choose to give up and to give in to the comfortable and complacent, or we can do what needs to be done to re-energize and engage ourselves for the journey forward.  This may mean stepping away for a bit, seeking out a friend or colleague, resting, or re-evaluating.  It may mean spending time with someone who reminds us of why this work is so desperately needed.

Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will have the courage to keep believing that what we are doing is making a difference.  I pray that we will refuse to settle, but that we will also find ways to dream and work that enable us to see when we need to step away for a bit and catch our breath.

I'd love to hear what you can add to the conversation...

In your most challenging times, what practices have helped you re-connect with why you choose the difficult path of being intentional?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lent and longing

This Lent at The Well, we are exploring the Lord's Prayer together.  Even though, we've just begun, I can tell this is going to be a meaningful season.  We are gathering for worship and service opportunities, and are also meeting in smaller discussion groups during the week.  As we sat around the dinner table this Tuesday night for our first group gathering, we began our discussion with this question:  As a community, we are on the journey toward Resurrection Sunday, but as individuals, what other journeys are we on right now?

As I listened to and later reflected on our conversation, I heard the collective sounds of people longing for a day ... a day when we will know what the future holds, a day when we will heal from disappointment and disillusionment, a day when we will have balance again and a rhythm to our routines.   There were no easy answers or simple solutions, but in there place were nods, "I know what you mean"s and questions.

As our discussion turned toward the practice of prayer, one question surfaced that has lingered on my mind throughout the week.  The question sounded something like this:

What does prayer look like when our unfulfilled longing looms like an elephant in the room?

(Ironically, this was the topic of a recent post)  A few brief words were offered in response, but otherwise we moved on.  I wish we had stayed with this question, because it is such a powerful one.

For most of my life, I thought of prayer as a prescriptive process.
You need something?  Pray for it.
You are sad?  Pray for comfort.
You know someone who is sick?  Pray for healing.

Even though I learned along the way that prayer often changes us more than our circumstances, little was ever said about the changing shape of the prayers themselves.  Wouldn't the prayers of unfulfilled longing sound quite different than those asking for comfort and healing?  Wouldn't prayer in seasons of doubt and despair sound different than prayer in times of growth and gratitude?

Just like we did in our conversation, we want to move on too quickly without voicing any of the whys, hows and what nows that express the weight of our longing.  As uncomfortable as it may seem, being willing to allow prayer to be space for honest questions, sincere doubts and unresolved tensions may be the only way to pray as we journey through our longings.

I pray Lent is a rich time of exploring and expressing our deepest longings as we look to One who knows and understands each one.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Life is full of transitions.  This truth confronts me more and more as I watch my own children learn and grow.  We once had two toddlers, and now our oldest daughter is in middle school.  That's craziness, and I hear it just keeps getting crazier.  

It also confronts me as I watch our faith community change and grow.  Ministry teams have formed, people are taking on leadership roles, and contributing creative ideas, gifts and resources.  It's a beautiful thing, but like watching my own children grow, it's also a scary thing.  We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, facing difficult decisions, discerning the way together; and, it's not easy.

In Unexpected Gifts, Christopher Heurtz explores the challenges and gifts of being part of community.  His experience is that for each tension that a community faces, there is a subsequent gift on the other side.  He claims that transitions handled well lead to stability.  He writes,

Transitions have something addictive about them, something sexy.  There's something profoundly interesting about "what's next."  Transitions are an inevitable part of community, but how they are handled has as much power over the sustainability of a community as just about anything else.
Although he focuses on the transition experienced from members leaving a community, I think this same idea applies to any change in a community's life together.  In the midst of change, we can choose to become anxious and isolated from one another, or we can deal honestly with the challenges before us.  If we are  honest, we will acknowledge the fear, tension, and disappointment that can surface during times of change.  None of us handle things perfectly, we all make mistakes and we all have room for growth.  Transitions often land us where we've never been before; however, they can also provide us the opportunity for growth and a re-fining of our identity as a community of faith. 

What challenges have you faced during times of transition?  

And, what gifts have been waiting on the other side?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Taking the long view

Last year around this time, I attended a series of preaching lectures at my alma mater, the McAfee School of Theology.  I don't always make it back there for special events; however, when I heard Brian McLaren would be the guest lecturer, I not only made the trip, but sent him an email to see if we could "get together".  Really?  We'd met once.  I'm not sure what led me to do this, other than the fact that I really admire his work. I also think that many of the ideas expressed in his books have inspired me down the path to church starting.  Still.  Asking before-hand for a featured speaker's time is not my norm.

I must admit I was pretty pumped when I got an email confirming that he would be able to carve out some time for us to meet.   We ended up only having about 30 minutes, just enough time for me to ask him about his church starting experience, lessons learned and advice for a new-by.   We talked about influential books and the necessity of balance and self-care, but there is one piece of advice that has stuck with me since then.  As I shared about my hopes and dreams for our new faith community and for my ministry, he shared some simple yet powerful words that have emerged from lessons learned on his own journey:

Take the long view.

To be honest, I was not sure how I felt about these words when I first heard them.  
Take the long view?   
What about making each moment count?  
What about living like there's no tomorrow?

Take the long view.  

Take the long view in life, in ministry, in leading our faith community.  

The more I've let these words sink in, the more they have helped me to be focused, to be content, to be present.  Everything I hope to achieve, everything I dream of and feel compelled to work toward, does not have to happen today.  In fact, it will not happen today.  Taking the long view means being present today.  Here.  Now.  It means seeing and participating in the beautiful moments that are unfolding on this day, and not always wanting to do and be more.  It means tabling some things that are not as urgent, not as necessary and for which the timing is just not right.

I needed this advice, and I am thankful that it still lingers in my heart and mind.  While I have many hopes, dreams and visions for the future, they will  (or will not) unfold in due time.

How do these words speak to you?  
How do you need to be more present today, here and now?

Friday, January 18, 2013

The elephant in the room

Apparently, it's been a while since I've been to the circus.  That's one reason why when a friend offered discounted tickets, I decided to take her up on the offer.  So, last night I, along with my youngest daughter and one of her friends, arrived excited about what was in store.  We found available street parking (i considered avoiding the $10 parking fee a huge success!), and walked toward the arena.  Everything was going smoothly, and it was looking like a great night of fun.

If only it were  not for those darn animal rights activists that greeted me outside of the arena, it may have been a spectacular evening.  I mean, why had I not remembered all of the news headlines I had seen several years ago uncovering the mistreatment of circus animals?!  True or not, I felt a churning in my stomach that I could be supporting this abuse.  All that kept scrolling through my mind were images of Dumbo and her mother...

This was the first of several signs that let me know right away I was in the wrong place.  As we entered the arena, there was booth after booth lined up to sell over-priced souvenirs. People were already purchasing stuffed animals and fluorescent mow-hawks before the show even started.  Me and my we-can-go-as-long-as-you-know-we-are-not-buying-any-junk self had a hard time smiling when my daughter turned to me and said, "thank you so much for bringing me to the circus, mom."  I wanted to say, Sure, honey.  Maybe next time, we'll go watch some pigs get slaughtered.  I was not sure that was appropriate to say to my 9 year-old, so I smiled back and said, "You're welcome."

As the night went on, I tried my best to go along with the excitement, but it was not easy.  The now old-fashioned circus is clearly extinct.  The juggling clowns have been replaced by motorcycle riding, hip-hop dancing newer models.  The elephants, tigers, rabbits and poodles did their synchronized moves, but they looked unnatural and a bit over-tamed.

It was not until this morning that I realized what made me the most uneasy about this experience.  It was the elephant in the room.  Not just the living, breathing ones, but the one pounding on my head and heart.  The elephants of greed, of misuse of power, of injustice and oppression.  And, there I was quietly playing my part.

There's no need to sit around today and wallow in my guilt about taking my child to the circus.  I know there are much bigger things to get worked up about.  In fact, this isn't about the circus at all.

It's about all the times I go with the flow instead of asking the tough questions.
It's about all the ways I perpetuate injustice because it's not convenient to do anything new or different.
It's about all the instances when I refuse to be intentional in how I spend my time, my money and my resources in ways that matter.

I guess that's the elephant that needs my attention on this Friday.

What elephant needs yours?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Practice makes better

Over the past couple of years, I have struggled to put into place a non-too-structured, yet productive rhythm of work.  I float between an office space generously provided to me by our partner church, my makeshift home office, coffee shops and other public meeting places.   I love the flexibility and change in scenery, and have learned a lot about myself as I've moved around from place to place.  I've learned that I write sermons best from home, that I sometimes get distracted by eavesdropping on others' conversations (come on, we all do it...) and that I am much more creative and energetic when I am out and about in our neighborhood.

I know I'm not alone in dealing with the challenges of not working in a traditional work place.  No doubt, not having set hours, clear productivity expectations or a consistent work space can offer lots of freedom.  Within that freedom, I've experimented a lot to figure out what works best for me, knowing that there's no right or wrong way.  I've discovered that there are a few practices that have helped me develop a rhythm for doing the work I love to do, and I want to offer them to you...

Some of you know that I have just completed life coach training, and am loving practicing this new skill set.  I was first introduced to coaching by a friend who suggested it might be helpful to enlist a coach to help me navigate the challenges of church planting.  By asking me powerful questions, offering much needed affirmation and helping me develop realistic action plans, coaching has been a key part of my rhythm.  I now have monthly coaching phone conversations that last about 45 minutes, and I always leave the call with new insights and a plan to achieve my goals. Through these conversations that I have uncovered many of my fears, passions and hopes for the future.  I have also developed strategies to help me lead difficult conversations, make challenging decisions and implement self-care.  

Day of discernment
During a season of extreme (like most seasons) busyness, I realized that I was seriously missing much needed down time for reflection and renewal.  I was constantly reacting to what I thought others expected, and was feeling uneasy about my leadership.  Needing some clarity and space for reflection, my coach and I came up with a practice that has now become a critical part of each month.  One day a month, I get in my car and head for Lillie's Coffee Bar at Jax. Beach. I call it my "day of discernment" even though it really only lasts a few hours.  I spend a couple of hours journaling responses to a series of questions that force me to listen to what is stirring, challenging, exciting and draining me.  I reflect on how I'm balancing work and family, leading our community and nurturing my own spirituality.  Afterward, I walk across the street to at least get a glimpse of the ocean.  Some days, I'm able to go for a walk, another practice that helps me listen and center myself before returning to engage in work.  As difficult as it seems to set aside the time, I've found that getting away (even just 30 minutes) gives me a fresh perspective and helps me recognize what is difficult to see in the places I sit every day.

Connecting with others doing similar work
Each week, I schedule some time to explore websites, blogs and articles written by people doing similar work.  I also make time for an occasional visit with someone else starting a new business or trying to create something from scratch.  Hearing their stories, and being reminded that my anxieties are not uncommon can be a huge encouragement.  If I am not intentional about connecting with others doing similar work, I miss the opportunity to learn from their experiences and to be part of something bigger than just my little piece of the puzzle.

These are just a few ways I'm working out a rhythm in this new way of living and working.  I'm going to continue to experiment, to move and to change.

I'm curious...

What are you practicing that is giving more life to your work?

How are you making space to determine the best rhythm for your work/family/self-care responsibilities?

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Word for 2013

After several months of abandoning any writing outside of sermons, prayers and emails, I am plunging back in.  What better time than at the start of a new year!  Thanks to SheLoves Magazine and this post, I'm taking the challenge to make one word my place to live from in the coming year.  

The word I've chosen is courageous.

It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the meaning of the word.  After all, it takes a slight bit of courage to change careers, to move away from home, to complete a marathon.  Yes, there's a little pat on the back before I tell you why I so desperately need to be more courageous.

In the 4th chapter of Gospel of Luke, just after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness we find these words:
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  (v.14-20)
I know that of all the life-giving, love-bringing actions performed by Jesus, this one seems to pale in comparison.  Having just stood the test of the wilderness temptations, Jesus is back among friends and family.  He is among those who know and love him.  Yet, the story tells us that he is not the same.  Rumors have spread and he has gone from temple boy to teacher and leader.  Unlike the boy who wandered away from his parents to the temple teachers, he is now the one doing the teaching.  Not only that, but the scripture he reads would announce his true identity.  He would bring good news to the poor.  He would proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He would let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.  These life-giving, love-bringing tasks would bring deliverance, but they would also invite much opposition. 

Courageous (adj.): Not deterred by danger or pain; brave.

I'm imagining it took a lot of courage for Jesus to stand before friends and neighbors knowing that he would soon be identified as one who blazed a new trail - a new way to love God and neighbor - a new way to be in the world.  Many who approved of his scripture reading on this day would deny even knowing him in the days to come.

As a mother, wife, pastor and follower of Jesus, I struggle to live courageously in ways that matter.  Instead of stepping into my identity (which is unique to many, especially in this mostly conservative southern city), I too often shrink back.  Instead of letting discomfort propel me forward, I allow it to push me back.  I'd rather play it safe and save the real challenging work for someone more courageous than me.

Here's what I imagine stepping into courageous will look like in the coming year ... writing, running and sharing more; having more fierce conversations; saying no more often to things that matter less and yes to things that matter most; apologizing more when it's necessary and less when it's not; hosting less events and engaging in more long term/messy/challenging relationships; delegating the details so I can be more present;  embracing my new life coaching skills and practicing them as often as possible.  This is what I imagine, but I'm sure there's much to learn and discover as I begin trying out courageous.

It scares me to death, and that's why it know it's the word for me this year.  I'll give some updates about what I'm losing and finding along the way, and also write more often to continue sharing my journey as a missional faith community pastor.