Friday, December 31, 2010

One More for 2010

There's been a significant drop off in the volume of blog posts in the last two years. 2010 was sparse, to say the least. While I'd make the case for quality rather than quantity, I think the level of written output is an indicator of other things.

As I look at my dashboard, I see a surprising number of drafts never published. Impressive posts begun here, the incomplete display of profundity there. (ha!)

My ability to bring coherence to issues for which a real time response was called for was sorely lacking in 2010. It's not that I haven't had thoughts about many things. I didn't have energy to see it through. A fragmented life will always yield distraction.

But I'm not going to beat myself up about it though (there's plenty other things about which I can). True enough, a relentless pursuit for relevance can veer easily into the absurd. And I'm often on the line of the absurd anyway.

So I end the year with one more post. One of self awareness that there were decent thoughts shared, some interesting life stories imparted, and they are mine. This blog is composed of my thoughts reflecting my journey. Some of these stories may have intersected yours at certain points.

One of the things that this year has taught me is that our journeys, sometimes once thought long since divergent, seem to have a way of intersecting again in ways you least expect.

What is it that Christians say? Never goodbye, just see you later.

I think that's right. Not always in the ultimacy of time, but sometimes in the dailyness of living. I cling to the hope of what is and what will be---and in the meantime, I'll be trying find a bit more balance in the new year.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thinking About What Was and What Is

Virtually every media outlet will have a "year in review" this coming week. It's the usual air time filler produced to run between Christmas and New Years.

We'll be invited to look back at pop culture, politics, lead stories, and trends. Because we have a short attention span, the recollection of things happening no more than 12 months ago will seem a distant memory. That is not among our most endearing traits.

We'll see video packages of key figures in our culture who died in the previous year. Their deaths remind us of what we've lost and that we're not what we were.

I've found myself rather introspective of late, looking back across my year that was to help give me a course to steer in the year at my doorstep.

So here's some thoughts about my year in review-

Weight Much?
Once again I find myself at the breaking point of a lifelong struggle with weight and the anger, shame and self loathing that are my constant companions when I consider that I've allowed this to happen---again. At my age I can no longer afford the delusion that I'll get it right one of these days. If I desire longevity and vitality I've got to "find some balance here."
The "Dr. Phil" voice would argue that I must find something in this struggle that I'm looking for, otherwise I'd change it because we can't change what we won't acknowledge. So what is it? I've been reflecting on the year that was. It hasn't been an easy one, and at times quite difficult. Just because I'm called to do a certain work, and sometimes do it pretty well, does not mean there is no toll taken. Who is pastor to the pastor? Right now that's an open question. There is a direct correlation between how I'm dealing (or not dealing) with life healthily, and the insulation I add to my physical frame. Rather than thinking of storing up for a winter's hibernation, the added weight I pack on serves me more like a Kevlar vest presumably to protect my heart from the perceived threats "out there." And I think it's always been that way for me, from childhood on.
While I've not always given my permission to ponder such things, I think I'm right on this one. It's a self-protection mechanism, that ironically, is going to damn near kill me if I don't find a way through. How is it with my soul? Look at my body and you'll see the answer my mouth dares not speak.

For a Song -
I don't know when I've sung more than I have in this past year. It's been a long time, probably not since Asbury days as Glad River was coming together and we were recording and touring, and I served as Associate with a singer as Senior (MM). Fun days. Music is as much soul medicine for me as anything. I've been reminded of that great quote from Augustine, when we sing we "pray twice," Guess I've been doing a lot of praying. I recently saw a video of me singing and was taken by how different my countenance was. I could see it. My affect is almost transcendent. Held in juxtaposition with the usual "me," I have to say I like the "me" I am when I sing a lot more than the "me" I am when I don't.
In my current appointment, I'm blessed with very talented musicians. At times I've tapped into my inner rock star when we do tunes of the 60's and 70's to augment our worship experiences. Even bought myself my own solo mic - EV- N/D767a. Yep, all about the tunes.
And then there's The Travelling Cokesburys (click and check us out) which has been an utter blast (CD coming soon). To be able to play and sing with John Kilzer has been a treat. But it is our project, hymns from the Cokesbury Hymnal, that has allowed me to reconnect with a touchstone of my faith that had meant so much. It's not the hymns themselves that matter as much as my recollection of the congregations I grew up singing them in.

In Search of Community -
My clergy group, of which I've been a part on a weekly basis since 1990, is struggling to survive. While its number and configuration has changed many times over the years, with just three of us left the inevitable is upon us. I don't know what that means for me. For a long time we tried to model what healthy clergy relationships could look like, those in which we lovingly hold each other accountable. Sometimes we were actually good at it. But itineracy and attrition has moved this group to a perilous state, and I'm saddened by that. I'm also worried because the loneliness of those in clergy, something for which I had a weekly antidote, is now evermore in front of me in the year ahead.

Friends -
Reconnecting with friends of my past, those who knew me, loved me and trusted me long before I claimed a vocational life has been one of the greatest blessings of this past year, no question about it. I hate to admit that Facebook is partially responsible for that being true, but it is. My friends from Mayfield, Jackson and early Memphis days have each touched me again, and I'm ever thankful. And that's been a complete and welcomed surprise.
I've also been reminded this past year that with some friendships, sometimes you just have to move on. That's something you'd think I would have learned by now. Moving on is what I've done all my life. Close a door, open a door. It's an axiom of we in clergy life that I thought I could ignore or manage because I'm just that smart. Not so much. Learning to do that at peace? That's the trick, and a lesson I'm trying to learn, and so far not so well.

Being a Dad -
For every moment I feel like I did a great job as a dad, there's scores more when I blew it. Too busy, too tired, too distracted...too not present. And yet, my boys affirm in me how much I matter to them. They make me laugh. I make them laugh. And when they are in trouble they know they can come to me and they do. The craziness of my home life since Kristy took over the stores several years ago is that I'm now by necessity a part of the dailyness of running the house, and tending the family. It gets to be nuts but it's been a blessing. And in the new year I'll have my first graduate. Not sure what that's going to mean for us all just yet, but it ought to be interesting!

So there's a look back at me. For what is right and good I'm thankful. For what of it that lingers, that I'll carry with me into 2011 as baggage I hope that just saying some of it out loud is the first step in unpacking.

Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Let me say from the outset - I've missed David Waters. The Commercial Appeal and the city are the better for having him come home to live and work among us. To come back to Memphis from The Washington Post is a pretty big deal  His prophetic voice rings true for so many issues our community faces.

Let me also say that I'm proud to have travelled to Israel with brothers and sisters in the clergy with whom I've enjoyed a profound covenantal relationship for the past several years. I've written about this group previously in our responses to Lester Street and The Med, and Tear Down the Walls.

While there's much I will reflect upon in due course about being in Israel, the spiritual impact of being in a "holy land," for this post I find the need to clarify things for those left with certain impressions about this group, what we did, and why we did it.

Here's David's article:

Now I confess to sadness for feeling the need to do this at all. First, it would have suited me fine if there had never been any media about this. Granted, media exposure is common with many of the folks in this group, although I'm clear that I'm at the bottom of that food chain, and that's just fine by me.  While I don't think any of us were really looking for it, it was too good to pass up as a story. I get that.

Being in fellowship together out of the spotlight, where we could be ourselves with one another, while understanding the pressures of what it means to be spiritual leaders was what gave life to this group. It is what draws us to it still.

When you turn that which had one purpose into the hands of the media, regardless of intentions, you open yourself up to perceptions that belie what is true.

On it's face, a public airing opens us to opinions. Perceptions from those who don't know me matter very little to me.  My sadness, bordering on feeling betrayed is that some of these perceptions are from those I thought knew me, trusted me, and counted me as friend. And I'm not sure what to do with that. It confronts my continual internal conversation about not being loved unconditionally for who I am, and seen as having value only because of what I do.

Let's see...I've had "friends" concerned that I was going to be indoctrinated to a specific point of view, one they didn't hold.  The belief I'd be indoctrinated by anything or anyone lets me know I'm not really known or trusted by those I thought did.  That stings.

I've been labelled as being like those clergy to whom MLK Jr wrote in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  (them's fighting words, by the way).  I was confronted by that masterwork during my Vandy days.  It was thrust before me in critically constructive ways that made my focus be such that I will do everything I can in ministry not to be associated with those whose silence equals concurrence to what is going on around them.

So what's the real issue here for me?  I thought about this a lot.  And I'm surprised by how much this has gotten under my skin.  I've sought the counsel of a trusted voice who does love and trust me for who I am and what was said resonated.

"Your integrity was called into question by those who know you, or at least you thought they did."

And there it is.  "For everything there is a season."  It is now the season to peaceably move on from what I thought was to what is.  Ever been there?  It happens.

How many of you have the motivations of your trips questioned?
I mean really?
It's a trip - a group of friends who happen to hold ministry in common took a trip together with our partners.

We went to Israel, a beautiful, complex place.  I knew that before I got there, and found it confirmed upon arriving.  The issues of security, justice and peace for all who call that place home have no easy answers.  We went to see, to experience, to talk, to touch, to process, to pray, to consider the land of where Jesus lived, to ponder the implications of a land claimed by multiple faith communities and consider what that means in the places we live and do ministry.

We did not go to engage in Middle East peace talks.

Now David would have you believe that our common cause for friendship means we don't have different opinions on issues.  How anyone who knows any one of us could believe that's true just isn't paying attention.  The variable is that we gather as friends who hold work in common, not as ministers first, friends second.  Some people either can't get that, or don't want to.

Most people were glad I went, glad we went, proud even that this fellowship of leaders, imperfect as we are, seeks to model the community in our common life that we proclaim in our work lives.

Where we went was not nearly as significant as that we went somewhere together.  That we went to a place that holds significance to our faiths added a dimension that cannot be underestimated.

Shortly after returning we received word that David was going to write an article about the trip.  David issued a request that each of us answer:  "How did what you experienced in Israel inform your life and work in Memphis."

Eisegesis is defined as reading into something what you want it to say, rather than what it really means.  It's a no-no for preachers when dealing with biblical texts.  It's a no-no period.  Ever encounter someone abusing scripture to say what they need to so that their point is validated, rather than let the scripture shape them?  There you go.

While David was free to edit my words, the complexity of what I intended was co-opted into something altogether different.  He eisegeted my quote.  Here it is in total:
As we traveled through Israel together, we often heard the words "it's complicated," when describing ever present geopolitical and religious tensions. It's always there. There is a growing awareness that a two state solution may well be the last best enduring legacy for the land claimed as sacred by those who claim the God of Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus as the center of their faith. But is the "two state" solution that we have long known on the parcel of land we call home our most faithful expression of the love of God and neighbor? As it is there it is here...a question always present. My sense is that to live fully into the justice and mercy of God compels Israel and Memphis to different conclusions on that question. It is complicated. But since when should what is complicated excuse doing what is faithful?
Inasmuch as we who traveled together know what it meant and why we went, there is eisegesis aplenty by too many others.  It's not about intentions, I don't believe.  I think we read into way too many things what we want them to say rather than what they actually do.  Driven by our own predispositions, biases and prejudices, and in the absence of trust and conversation, we make anything say what we want it to.

I've encountered this.  It does not diminish the import of this experience for me.  I am bothered that there's always someone who can't celebrate the blessings of others and will interpret what they want how they want.

But truth be told, I'm sad.  The number of people with whom I entrust myself is comparatively few.  And apparently, it's even fewer than I thought.

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