Saturday, December 31, 2011

Turn the Page

Some thoughts as 2011 has given way to 2012.

In many ways, more than I can safely articulate through this medium, 2011 has been as challenging a year as I can remember.  My posts during most of this year reflect that.  No need to rehash, except to say that I find myself now at a place with deeper perspective.


Wildernesses are hell.  Always.  But wildernesses journeyed through tend to bring focus and clarity where it is most needed.  And what is "most needed?"  Invariably, it's that of us too long enabled, or denied.  It's that which perpetuates dis-ease.  It's finally confronting the cumulative effect of going along to get along.  It's wrestling with the failure to share the genuine self crippled by the fear that to do so is to jeopardize life as we know it.   It is a spiritual death by a thousand little cuts.


I begin 2012 with a keener sense of liberation.  My ministry partner these past many years is want to employ the phrase, "you get to pick" when it comes to the choices we make in life.  And for all that I've ever believed or taught about free will being a sign of God's love and grace I'd found it difficult to make real in me when guided more by fear than the liberation that comes from living in grace.


It's one thing to say "I'm free."  It's quite another to live freely.  As it is with all expressions of freedom, there is an expectation of responsibility.  But that responsibility is not to make sure everyone's happy.  It is the responsibility that what is being lived out is true in me.


2011 was a significant year to draw that distinction into high relief.
It would be a lie to say I'm thankful for the wilderness.  It sucked.


But 2011 brought with it some wonderful rites of passage - 
A high school graduate and now college freshman whom I've so enjoyed watching taking the same field I did 30 years prior with the same trumpet I played and playing the same fight song.  It's not that I'm living vicariously through him.  Rather, I remember me when I was that age.  I remember what I did and who I did it with, and that makes me smile.


I've got another teenage driver who could not believe that I was about to write a check for his car.  How'd he think I was going to buy it?  That car is him.  My growth in the depth of my relationship with "L'il Bit" is among the things for which I am most thankful in the last year.  He's quite a young man.


And then there's the 10 year old.  He is my constant puzzle to figure out.  None of my old tricks work with him.  "He's not scared of you," I'm told.  It's not that he sees me as his equal.  I think he sees himself as my boss.  And while I know you're supposed to encourage reasoning for decisions made to help the development of good choices...let's be honest, sometimes when you, the parent, says, "It's time for bed," the following 20 minutes should not be a debate.  "Because I said so," sometimes needs to be enough.


-------------------------
Pre"Occupy"ied - I've not commented on "Occupy" phenomenon except for a multi-threaded, at times heated, Facebook exchange.  Here's where I am on this.  What I hear is lament.  Yes, there is anger at the clear abuse of power and privilege that is perpetuated by a manipulation of rules.  Yes, there is anger that the political system either knowingly conspired to put the pieces in place for the 2008 financial crisis, or they were too inept to know the difference.  


I hear lament in the manner of the people Israel exiled from their Promised Land crying out in anguish and anger that the chance to have the life they prayed for is gone and there's nothing to be done about it.  The unthinkable for the people Israel was that they could ever lose the reality of that promise.  And yet, there they were in Babylon crying out, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"


Whatever you think about "The American Dream," there is a hue and cry from those who expected to have a fair shot at it finding that the rules of the game were changed by those in charge.  It is the collapse of the American middle class.  It is the unconscionable disparity of wealth in our country.  And when that is acknowledged out loud critics call it "class warfare." 


And they're right.  It is class warfare...a war waged by stealth until the consequences could no longer be hidden.  It began when those with most figured out how to get even more.


Pillars of the financial system weren't playing with house money...they were playing with yours.  And, in the most audacious example of "heads I win, tails you lose," they bet against terrible risk clients that they would default while insuring themselves that if/when there was default they still got paid.  Pretty sweet if you're in on that deal.


To label these folks as drum banging hippies is just too easy.  It's one of the things we do.  If we can put a label on someone that demeans and disparages, we really don't have to listen to what they say.  Everything is filtered through our image of them.  


The other critique too easily called upon is to compare how we have come to our station in life with theirs.  Invariably, it is because they are lazy that they have no job, we'd say.  The presupposition that each of us has the same shot at success just ain't so.  So before we slip too much further into this new Gilded Age, we good Jesus people would do well to remember that it is the use, abuse and lust for money with all the implications thereto appertaining that Gospel writers have him speaking to most.


And then there's this - "Those to whom much is given, much is required."  Just sayin.


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The "Hobby" - So, I found one this past year.  Some might say I've found two,  that walking is one of my hobbies.  But it's not.  Walking is for survival.  I walk to live.  I do it instead of taking meds.  In fact, walking is a daily medication that must be taken.  That's how I've made sense of it.


So, if not walking, then what?  Recording.


I first recorded with Glad River back in the mid 90's.  What a wonderful time that was.  Didn't have a clue what we were doing, and what I'd give to be able to go back in and redo project knowing what I know now....and yet, when people think of Glad River, that's the project they remember. 


We did a little two song deal in the late 90's and then another CD in 2003.


John Kilzer and I did our Travelling Cokesburys CD in 2010.


I've always wanted to record material that I'd love to sing but would otherwise have no way of doing.   I have musicians in our contemporary band who have recording equipment, and I thought I'd ask for help to record some love songs for Kristy when we had our anniversary last May.  So I spent a couple of nights and put together a little 7 tune project just for her.  It went so well it made me think of doing something more my mother, who always asked me to just sing something for her and give it to her for Christmas.  Right.  


Technology has come so far, though, that I started entertaining the thought of doing something that would suit my own expectations, that I could do myself in my own timing, and be fun to do.


You know, iPhone's are pretty versatile things.  So here's what I did.  Bought an adapter that allowed me to override the internal mic and plug in my EV N/D767a, my solo mic I use when I sing in public, and monitor through headphones.  I downloaded the Vocalive app, a four channel recorder with vocal effects.  I then went on an exhaustive search for the best and most authentic backing tracks to Standards from the American Songbook, and began to record, here and there, when I could.  I began in June and finished 13 tracks in November.  I burned them on a CD, had my buddy Mike take a pic for me, wrapped it up and put a bow on it.  Mom opened a CD with me on the cover in black and white except for one thing - the title?  "I've Got Blue Eyes, Too."


My love of the Standards is life long.  I had more fun doing this than I could have imagined.  The creative moment of working with a group or in an actual studio is unmatched.  But because I was functioning as artist and engineer simultaneously, it was a bit of a rush.


I did - 
"Days of Wine and Roses," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," I'll Be Seeing You," "Lazy River," "Here's That Rainy Day," "My Funny Valentine" "The Way You Look Tonight," "Don't Worry About Me," "Moon River," "Embraceable You," "The Shadow of Your Smile," and "One For My Baby, and One More for the Road." 


Mom has the one and only "official" copy.  There is a ghost copy that exists that I shared with someone for "quality assurance."  I'm not telling who it is, but he's my drummer.


As I finished up in November, Kristy said to me "You know, when your mother opens this, your sister is going to want it, too."  But I really only wanted mom to have this.  I decided to put something together for her that captured the music I remembered growing up with her starting in late 60s.  So, with a quick turnaround and not as much time to perfect it, I did 10 tunes for my sister on a project titled "Sealed With a Kiss."


It's got the title song, "It's Not Unusual," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother," "Brandy" (You're a Fine Girl), "Precious and Few," "More Today than Yesterday," "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," and in an intentional homage to Joe Cocker (and probably some Belushi doing Joe Cocker) I did, "With a Little Help From My Friends."

The thing about this that I take away, beyond the obvious fun and the hard work that went in to it, is that I've never been quite so willing to put myself out there like that.  I'm long known as the one who's always running with shields up.  This was an exercise in learning how to drop the shields and just be.  It was good for me.

I did take note that after they had opened their presents and before than had even listened to them they asked for another one next year.  Really?

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No, I'm not going to miss 2011.  But I'm beginning to suspect that when I look back on it years on it will be what emerged from me in 2011 that helped give direction to life thereon.
We'll see.
But for now?  It's time to turn the page.

Monday, October 03, 2011

24601

The whispered conversation took place during a service of worship.

Words of support, love, solidarity and friendship were shared, as they had been many times over the past year even if I couldn't hear them.  There came the observation that the spirit was noticeably freer, the countenance more joyful, the fog of the wilderness seeming to have cleared.

"I'm not sure when, how or what happened," I said.

He said, "Grace happened."

"Yeah, I guess so."

-------

We all like those clear as a bell, definitive moments. They serve as markers...boundaries from what was to what is. They help us make sense of things.  If we can say when something happened and know why, then we retain the perception of control.  At certain times in life they are remarkably identifiable.  And then there are others that you happen in to and realize sometime after having crossed into something new that you are no longer where you were. You don't know when, how or what happened, you just know that Dorothy's line from "The Wizard of Oz" applies to you:  "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."  Control?  What control?

Maybe that's how grace operates.  Despite my preference that it be so clear as to be unmistakeable, it comes, filling in the trenches - the lines of demarkation I've drawn - overflowing their banks.  Life exempts no one from what is hard...what is bad...what is crisis of spirit making.  But what grace seems to do is make it so that once you come to yourself (which is itself a work of grace), that you had to endure the hard thing is not the first thought. Rather, we are reminded that despite what may have seemed to be, we were never alone.  That we endured what was is the thing.  And those "agents of grace" dispatched along the way stand watch and hang on to us whether we want them to or not and declare "the darkness is not going to get you...not on my watch."

I know this to be true - I bear witness.

My own sense of self and vocation has been mired in the mucky question, "Who am I?"

It hasn't been an existential exercise so much.  It's more like "who will I be?"

Maybe it's my age (although I do think there's more to it than the easy "mid-life crisis" crap).  As I've wandered, I've wondered about where I am, how I got here, is this what I thought I would be and does it square with what, at some point way back when, I imagined.

It's been at times a dark place.  Really dark.
Do I believe what I proclaim?
Is this whole church thing a game?
Is there something else, something more I could be doing...was I always to be a local church pastor?

Let's tick these off one at the time, shall we?

Do I believe what I proclaim?  At the risk of sounding an apostate, the most honest answer I can give is "sometimes."  When the way gets dark, it's easy to wonder what is, what isn't so, and what it all means.  But as I've been reminded by wiser counsel than I can ever give, the older I get the less and less I'm convinced that certain things have only one answer, and the more and more comfortable I am with saying "I don't know."  There is something to a Rilke-esque living of the questions not as an intellectual exercise, but as a journey of the spirit, that has integrity.  Cast against the presupposed certitude that someone in my position is to exude--I've become comfortable with defying that expectation placed on me (I'm comfortable about defying that expectation in more ways than one!).  As I've often repeated but now know in a very intimate way, "the opposite of faith isn't doubt, it's certainty."

Is this whole church thing a game?  As dreamed and imagined? No, it's not at all.  As lived out systemically? Abso-freakin'-lutley! I've never known "church" apart from a mainline denomination.  The one I've known is one now desperate to survive.  We cast before us as cautionary that which was perceived to be so by Mr. Wesley even before he died..."not that we cease to exist, but rather than we become a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power."  And then there's that line attributed to Augustine:  "The Church is a whore, and she's my mother."  I understand the truth in both statements.  Having now been "in the system" as either candidate or ordained for 30 years, having been in the church from birth, and having never lived as anything other than being a part of a clergy family, the wonder-eyed days of being United Methodist for the sake of being United Methodist have long since passed.  And yet, it is because of her than I claimed faith in Jesus and through her that I sought to give myself to the Church for service beyond self.

The Church decries its leadership deficit as causal to the situation it finds itself.  And it's right, but only to a point. It is right that there's a deficit in leadership, if the leadership it seeks is systemic maintenance.  And even then it's misplaced.  It points to the void of leaders now and what we are to do about it.  It's the issue de jour to train up leaders.  The irony is not lost on me.  The ones insisting that my generation and the ones younger than me are ill equipped to handle the ever so important matters of church are of the generation that helped us get in the ditch in the first place (oh yes I did!).  My own conference won't appoint from our ranks those positions deemed "crucial" because we don't believe we have leadership within to guide them.  I'm not clear I can communicate adequately through this medium how condescendingly offensive that is.  Truth is, I don't desire any of those appointments, but I know there are within the family of my sisters and brothers of this conference extraordinarily talented people who will never be given a chance because our very own treat their very own with an attitude not unlike Nathanael's when asked to follow Jesus from Nazareth.  "Nazareth?  Can anything good come from there?" (Jn 1.46)   Maybe somebody needs to speak up as Philip did:  "come and see."

Whatever is or isn't true about a void of leaders to direct the systemic church, nothing compares to the lack of leaders imbued with sufficient holy boldness to announce the Realm of God coming into being that demands we do what is just, love what is kind, while walking humbly with God.  To walk with God is to do justice and love kindness.  Why? Because that's where you'll find the One to whom we claimed we've given our lives.

When Jesus commanded that we "follow him," it wasn't rhetorical.

We need a helluva lot more prophets, pastors and priests than we do managers and CEOs.  Nothing will "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" more than proclaiming the radical character of Gospel.  You want to make disciples?  Preach that.  You want to make church members?  Preach the other.

Is there something else, something more I should be doing..was I always to be a local church pastor?  When I was at Vandy, I was the envy of so many of my friends.  They came to divinity school in search of a vocation.  I walked in the door knowing mine.  Declared at 17, certified at 18....it was the next step in the long journey.  They were stunned that I served churches while going to school.  They couldn't imagine it (by the way, none of them were United Methodists...they were Disciples of Christ, UCC, and Presbys).  I told them then that I couldn't imagine doing this work for all of my life.  It was an integral part to who I was and what I was to be, but it wasn't the only thing.  And while that "what else?" was undefined then, it was as it is now, a very unsettling thing that still seeks an answer.  In the last couple of years it has been screaming at me...causing me to panic.  It has been the catalyst for much of my wanderings of late.  Being "trapped in life" is not good thing.  Despite what may seem to be so, it's an issue that lives independent of my pastoral context.  It was starting to rise up in me even before I left midtown.

So what is it?  Beyond my fantasies (you know, be a rock star), I've thought about writing and teaching.  I don't live apart from music, so that's in there by necessity.  Do I have to leave the local church to fulfill that?  My wilderness journey has finally provided an answer to that question.  I don't have to leave it, but I may. That sounds like splitting hairs, but let me tell you, it's a clarifying answer that I've wrestled angels through the night to gain. If it is possible to fulfill what I believe I'm made to be within the local church, then I embrace that opportunity.  If not, then there must be other avenues for me to pursue.  It's hard to articulate how big it is to just give myself permission to say that out loud.

In the meantime, I've found contentment in the instruction of Jesus to his disciples,"where ever you enter a house, stay there until you leave." (Mk. 6.10)  For this season, I am where I am.  I will serve as completely as my gifts allow.  And when this season has reached its end, I will lean forward into what comes.
What I do leave behind me is the expectation for what I'm supposed to be in this Conference, what I'm supposed to do, and where I'm supposed to go.  I embrace the opportunity to pursue downward mobility (with all due deference for Fr. Nouwen).

Another friend looked into my eyes a few days ago.  Having not seen me since I was very much in the mess, she noted, "You're better."

"Is that a question or a statement?" I asked.
"A statement," she said.
"Yes, I am."

I don't know exactly what, how and when the emergence occurred.  It's been over the Summer.  Often, we think that whatever fix comes to our plight, it comes from outside of us to directly influence what's inside of us.  But it doesn't work that way so much.  We all may want a Damascus Road experience, but they don't come around everyday.  For me, there is a direct correlation between where I am now and certain decisions made in the Summer.
  • I've known the joy of reaching out and reconnecting with friends of long ago.
  • I decided that I could no longer abide the impact my dark season was having on my health.  The thought of it killing me was real.  So, back on the wagon.  Bring a little health to the body, and the spirit finally starts seeing the edge of the wilderness.  It's amazing what walking at least 4/mi. a day can do for your outlook.
  • Find a hobby and enjoy it.  I have, and I can't talk about it.  Yet.
So who am I?  What can I proclaim as true about me? Like Jean Valjean in hiding behind the title of mayor only to reveal his truth indelibly marked as a number upon his chest, I no longer hide behind the title Reverend.  And yet, I embrace what I believe I'm made to be:
  • Pastor who seeks to listen, to comfort and to guide.
  • Preacher called to proclaim gospel in places where it's easy and (gulp) where it's not.
  • Teacher to open hearts and minds to something of the nature of God.
  • Singer whose spirit goes to another place when I get to cut loose.
-------

So after the mention of grace and my confirming words, "Yeah, I guess so,"  I said, "You know, this whole thing we've been doing this last year or so, your guidance and care have saved my life."

There was a nod of acknowledgment, and a smile as we stood up and took our places.  The unmistakable sounds of Memphis reverberated throughout the sanctuary as John struck the strings and sang verse one.  I took verse two:
"When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near,
when my life is almost gone,
hear my cry, hear my call,
hold my hand, lest I fall:
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Harmon's Whispering in My Ear

     If you've ever had a mentor...someone who helped give shape and direction to the raw material that's you, you get it.
     The imprint of their counsel on you is not confined to time and space.  It's not like you had them in your life for a finite time and the benefit of their lives intersecting yours is subject only to your memory's recall.
     Like the voice of Obi-Wan (the Sir Alec Guinness version, please) that seems to come to Luke in the moment of greatest import offering the guidance so sorely needed, the mentors of our lives continue to speak to us even when they are no longer physically in our presence.
     I've been hearing the voice of one of mine the past couple of days--my friend, Harmon.
I written about my relationship with Harmon previously - click here for those posts.
     I think it started during one of the recent debates for the Republican candidate for the presidency.  It's the one than when the moderator, as preface for a question to the candidate who is the current governor of Texas, commented about the 230 some odd executions that have occurred during his tenure as the executive of the state.  The opportunity for the moderator to actually ask the question was interrupted by applause from the crowd at the mention of the number death orders this governor has signed.  Even more perplexing was the claim by most in that hall that they were disciples of Jesus.
     I heard Harmon whisper, "Jesus was once asked for his position on the death penalty.  He said, 'Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.'"
     I've heard him again today as the state of Georgia prepares to execute Troy Davis, a man convicted of killing a Savannah police officer.  In a case in which:
  • the vast majority of witnesses have recanted their testimony, 
  • most of the witnesses commented that they were coerced by police hell bent to pin this horrible crime on someone, because, by God, somebody had to pay, 
  • the former head of the FBI has commented at how "pervasive and persistent" were his doubts about Davis' guilt, 
  • a former US President and the Pontiff have called for a stay, 
  • several jurors have commented that they would have voted differently,
  • the state board of appeals proceeded with their blood lust, which they mistakenly call "justice," and barring a stay from the US Supreme Court, Troy will die today.
     I hear Harmon whisper, "his guilt or innocence isn't even the issue, the state taking upon itself the role of final arbiter of who lives and who dies is beyond what any should have.  For the state to kill in my name lessens us all and makes us culpable for it."
     That there is a strong case to be made for Davis' innocence, I mean, really do I really have to spell out how screwed up this whole thing is if they're going to kill him anyway?
     I hear Harmon whisper, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is not license to kill, rather it is a code of reprisal that punishment cannot exceed the crime, but that the biblical standard is always to show mercy."
     He would remind me, "the Bible says that 'vengeance belongs to God alone, not to humanity.'  and that "regardless of what the state says 'justice' is, the biblical standard for what is just is not retribution, but it does always look for restoration and reconciliation."
     The wisdom mentors whisper in our ears is not something we've never heard before.  No, it's the words spoken by them in our past that ring so true that their impact cannot be overlooked and will not be ignored.  Our mentors whisper in our ears what we need to be shouting.
     This execution of Troy Davis is wrong.  The execution of even the worst of us is wrong.   We are better than the most base temptations we each have to get even and mistake that for justice.
     When the sentence is given for a capital case, the judge offers words as a buffer between the sentence spoken and the removal of the convicted to death row.  It's usually something like, "and may God have mercy on your soul."
     I'm here to tell you, the soul of the convicted is not the soul we need to be worried about.
I know this to be true, Harmon whispered it to me.




Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Testify or Objectify

PREFACE - I've not pushed "Publish" in quite some time.  I've written a good bit, but have kept several posts to myself in the "Draft" section.  Don't know why.  I've developed a good case of ambivalence about many things.  Whether or not to write.  Whether or not I want other people to read what I've written.  Whether or not to....even care.


Anyway, prompted in part by friends who matter to me, I'm digging into the draft file and pushing "Publish" today.  Here's one that sat there for a couple of months.  It is what it is.


I never got an A from David Buttrick.

It wasn't for lack of trying.  I did get a hard earned A- and you'd a thought I received highest honors!

I followed his method (still do, for the most part).  I learned about homiletical moves and how their construction and sequencing, if done well, can spark the consciousness of the gathered people.

My problem with Buttrick, or better stated, his problem with me, was that I found it difficult to proclaim Gospel absent the context of the lives I knew, including my own.  Any homiletics professor will tell you that making yourself the storied example for your sermons is too easy.  Too often we do it when we've not done the due diligence to find resonant stories in the world in which we live that transcend the particular to reach the universal.

The other danger of placing self as the prime example of too many stories is that after a while it makes the listener wonder if there's anything or anyone more important in the preacher's life than the preacher---and how good he or she looks by having told on themselves or how heroic they are after having yet again come to save the day, in Jesus' name, of course.  Or, the other end of the spectrum is making one's self the butt of every joke, the case study of what not to do and who not to be, the perpetual martyr.

Don't let the pretense of modesty fool you....preachers can be and often are driven far more by ego strokes than living the sacramental life. (Oops...was that too much?)

And then there's the other danger about stories told.  It's the story you tell that's not yours to share.  Contrary to what many may think (including and especially preachers), not every story you hear or over hear is yours for the taking--or better stated, for the stealing.  Not every story we could tell we should.  Not every story is in the public domain, and there are very good reasons for that.

And yet, at the core of our common life and mutual commission is "story."  And it's a doosey!  It's one we are to tell, one we are to live.  It is the very thing that informs every story we tell and just as every story we tell is to inform it.

So, when I observe the objectification of a story, ostensibly to magnify "the" story to which we've pledged our lives..it offends me to no end.  Because to tell someone else's story as if it's there's to tell is to be less than truthful.  It lacks integrity, and it harms "the" story we're supposed to tell.

And it's done way too often by those who know better.

Anybody in Paducah last June?  There you go.

It matters not if the one telling it carries the label of Rev'd, Lay Leader, cool Guest Preacher wearing indigenous attire, or Bishop. If in the telling of a story the person being talked about is referred to less as a person and more as object of the life they've lived, then you have a clue.


Drug pusher.  Crack whore.  Drunk.
Might as well call them tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
And yet I'm reminded of how Jesus related to those folks...not as objects, but as people.


The ones telling stories that are not theirs to tell often reveal way too much of themselves unaware.

It happened often at Annual Conference.  Sometimes the person being objectified was someone I didn't know.  Once it happened and the person was someone I did...someone I call "friend."

It's one thing if the person who is the subject of the story seeks to bear witness to that in their lives from which the grace of God liberated and is liberating them.  It's quite another if someone else does it without foreknowledge or permission.  It could be argued that the story was so compelling it just needed to be told because people got so much out of it.  But whether or not the masses liked the story is no excuse for telling that which is not yours to tell, especially when the one being objectified is in the damn room.  What is popular and what is right are not the same.

To witness something so "violent" under the auspices of the "holy" shocked me.  It's not the first time I've heard it done.  Truth is, I've probably done it myself.  I suspect my sensitivity to such things is higher than it's been in the past.  But what I came away with from that experience was that the chasm between where the Church thinks it needs to be, and is out of systemic desperation "calling us to action" to abide, and what I believe I'm called to bring to it is ever widening.

The transition from "relevant" to "relic" is not nearly so far as one might think.

Hmm, relic...an object esteemed and venerated, no; a remnant left after decay, perhaps; a trace of some past or outmoded practice---there it is, that's the ticket.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Month that Was

It's been over a month since my last, and what a month it's been:

THE GRADUATE
I'm the father of a graduate. It was a time of great celebration and pride.  Not having done this before, it was my first as a father to help orchestrate how we'd celebrate.
"Where you want to have your family celebration dinner son?"  "Texas de Brazil."
Gasp...."ok." (a party of 16--largest check I've ever paid....exponentially more)

"How about with your friends?  How about a cookout at the house and you can have your friends over?"
"Sure, sounds great!"
"Is there anything in  particular you'd like to have at the party?"
"Could you get us a moonbounce?"
"Ok."

So Andrew and friends bounced, played and relished in the moment of such a profound transition for them.  And it is rather profound.  It was gratifying for me to see him celebrate so deeply in relationships formed in the 10 years of school he spent with these people.  It gives me joy.
And now Andrew has taken off the Red and White of Germantown.  It's time to put on the Blue and Grey!  Go Tigers!


TIES ACROSS THE YEARS
It is something of great import for me to give to my children something I didn't have. I've written much about my compartmentalized childhood.  I blame no one for it.  It was what it was. The impact of it on my life is something I'm only coming to recognize in recent years.  Much of my soul work of the past several years has been spent understanding what of me was left in those sequestered chapters of the past, as well as what leaving those chapters beyond my choosing has done to make me who I am, for good and especially for ill - the points of correlation are unmistakable.

And I'm convinced that while who I am now, with all the self loathing traits I carry - the more authentic parts of me are trapped in the "me" who lived in Mayfield, and to a lesser degree in Malesus, and to a lesser degree still in Memphis.  And I'm trying like hell to find that Johnny and reacquaint myself with him again.

This past year has been an extraordinary one to do just that.  It began last fall as I ended up in Baltimore at a conference and there found Elaine, a childhood schoolmate from Mayfield.  No longer the stuff of distant memory, there she was...a manifest expression of life...of a friend from another time and place.  I wrote about that encounter here.

I attended Annual Conference last week  in Paducah, the city of my birth.
Much more on that later, but in short - the objectification of another's pain as a means to score self aggrandizing points is repulsive, right Jorge and Dick?--how's that for a teaser?


KENNY
For two nights running, I skipped the evening gatherings of Annual Conference to visit with recently reconnected friends from Mayfield.  Kenny and I enjoyed some "table fellowship" and caught up further on our lives having reconnected for the first time in almost 30 years last March. Kenny and I went to church and school together, were teammates on The Longfellow Tigers football team. I have my clergy brother, Sky, to thank for this reunion.  Sky served as his pastor at Reidland, and somewhere along the line they mutually discovered they had "me" in common.

When we were together in March at Kenlake, it was a moment of immediate ease.  I was in the company of a friend of almost 40 years, whom I hadn't seen in almost 30, and at the same time we were in the company of his pastor, my friend since college days, and Brad and Rob, friends of 20 years.  Watching Rob and Brad watch me reacquaint with Kenny was an interesting thing.  They later reflected on how they had not seen me like that before.  We all went to dinner together in Murray.  That's when the stories started.  There's one in particular that hasn't been discussed by me really to anyone in 30 years.

After laughter and small talk, I jumped right in---

"So, uh, I guess it's time to talk about it, right?" I asked.
"I was wondering what was taking you so long." he responded.

So, I opened the vault on a story of long ago.
And watching my clergy brothers' faces as it unfolded was priceless.

Our two visits in March and now June have been great.  Kenny and I were buds back in the day.  Looks like we still are.

LIZ
And then there's Liz.  She was my best friend from the ages of 6-12.  Liz, Kenny and I were confirmed in the same confirmation class, in 1975, by the Rev'ds Dr. Jerry Carr and Jeffords, as formidable a ministry team as the Conference has ever produced.

Liz's family was among several others with whom our parents regularly socialized.  We traveled together.  My first trip to Florida, when I was in the 4th grade, happened with our little cadre of families.

We never called each other boyfriend or girlfriend, but I loved her.  She was my friend.
After moving away our paths rarely crossed again.  The itineracy...stiff upper lip and all that.
She went on to live her life as I did mine.
I would keep up with her through her parents who were, for many years, lay delegates to the Annual Conference from their Church.  She and her husband came to our wedding, but that day was such a blur, it's hard to recall that.  The last meaningful time I had with her, along with the youth choir from Mayfield, was 1981, when they came to Underwood to sing on a Sunday morning in our worship, a weekend that was not my finest hour. PGA punch'll do that to ya...can I get a witness?!

Because of Facebook, we had reconnected.  We shared the occasional Facebook comment.  Knowing I was going to be in Paducah, I asked if she'd be open to a visit and I was thrilled by her willingness.

She, her husband and daughter (God bless her, she had to wonder who this weirdo was) and I met for dinner.  It was a wonderful time to talk, reconnect and reminisce.  Almost instantly, I felt home.  Right there in the dining room of your Paducah Fazoli's.  Not unlike what I had encountered with Kenny and Elaine, it was an altering experience.  Her husband took a picture, I knew my mom would want one, and we went our way (ironically to see her again only a few days later in Memphis at the golf tournament--twice in a week after nothing in 22 years, bizarre).

I'm not sure if the visit was what was so great, as much as how I felt in the midst of it.  What I'm coming to realize is that the reconnections of the week were greater in scope than merely reconnecting with friends of long ago. Because in them I'm reconnecting with a "me" I'd long since left behind.

It's not the "little boy" inside of me.  Although I could see where one would come to that conclusion.  No, it's the me that saw life differently, more hopefully.  The me without without walls of skepticism and cynicism that are both shield in times of yellow alert and a full blown weapon when I'm at red alert.  It's the me around which a fortress of self protection has been built over the years...a fortress that allows me only to share so much of myself, to trust, to love, to care ...but only as much as it won't expose me to any pain, because I've known that before.

The next day at Annual Conference I showed the picture to Lora Jean, my ministry partner, who can read me pretty well (which is really unfortunate because there are times I wished she couldn't.  However, I read her, too--and I'm sure she wishes I couldn't as well).  Immediately, she blurted out in a voice that indicated surprise -
"Look at your eyes!"

"What about them?" I asked.
"They're free, happy!"
"Really?" I asked.
Now LJ and I are both INFPs (makes for an interesting ministry team, we feel and perceive EVERYTHING!).  So I guess I have to trust she's seeing something.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then maybe mine are revealing something more than I know, beyond that which I'm consciously aware.

But as I continue to wrestle with who I am, what I am, why I am, and what I'll be, I cannot help but think that within the narrative that is my story, each of these seemingly disparate episodes are not nearly so much as it may appear at first glance.

In the last month, I had a front row seat at my son's rite of passage and pride doesn't quite capture it.  Pride in who he is, who he's becoming.  Pride under girded with thankfulness for him that he was able to take this long journey with the same group of people even though his father's current vocation is by definition itinerant.  Now, I'm not the first parent proud of a son, but this one is mine - and it's a cherished gift.

And in the last month I've transitioned from wallowing in the ontological muck of my life's direction to an intentional time of finding answers, so much of which I'm discovering has clues found in my past.  The benefit of reconnecting with my life in Mayfield is wonderful.  But the gem that informs my future is finding the "me" I was then and integrate him into the "me" that is now.

This metaphysical dance is a means of grace--I think.  I hope.  I pray.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Divergence

  • "Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you." ---Jesus of Nazareth
  • "Sometimes you just have to put your religion in the drawer and fry the bastards." --- a person speaking in a church forum on the death penalty 
  • "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord.--the prophet Isaiah
  • "Justice was done." President Barack Obama
So, Osama bin Laden is dead.

He was killed with precision in a covert mission by Navy Seals.

Upon the President's announcement there was dancing in the streets. Literally.
At the White House, Ground Zero, on college campuses, military academies....

A palpable sense of national pride matched with relief rose up. Curiosity of the who, what, where, when and how gave way to bewilderment coming from the realization that something we never thought would happen, did.

The word "justice" was spoken. "Closure" was uttered.

And within me there was relief...gladness...pride in the courage and valor of those who do things in real life that I only watch dramatized on TV. The gathering of people celebrating across political lines was wonderful to observe because I'm so fatigued of rank partisanship.

Yeah, I felt those things, too.

And yet, as a Companion of Jesus, I found it a feeling hardly satisfying. For like it was almost 10 years ago, I found myself placed in a position of having to grapple with what it means to be a citizen of a country, and citizen of the Realm of God. And what do I do if those two things seems to be, at least for me, on divergent trajectories?

Too much of our country's civil religion co-opts Christianity as impetus to justify any action taken. This is not new. It's just manifest destiny of another kind. There's "cover" in that belief system. It's the cover and justification that comes from believing that your country can do no wrong and that to execute "justice" in this world, as we understand it, or at least as that which benefits us,  is doing "God's work."

We talk about "God and country." Reality shows that the way too many Christians live with the order reversed.

We allow ourselves to believe that to live under the banner of the Christian flag (a strange thing that's been around only for about 100 years created by a Sunday School Superintendent) is to live under the banner of the American flag. The two take prominent place in many of our sanctuaries (whether or not there should be flags in our sanctuaries is a conversation for another time, but the short answer is no, I don't think there should be....the narthex? maybe, but the sanctuary? not so much).

As citizen of a country, one attacked...one that suffered mightily as a result of that attack, one that lives every day with new realities we must attend because of what happened then, the feeling of making a horrific wrong right seems more than justified. Geopolitically speaking, it is the only response that makes sense.

But is it the response that would make the One I call "Lord," inclined to say "well done, good and faithful servant?"

Does Jesus say to us, "You killed a guy. Great job!"

Does the One who comforts us in our grief, celebrate with us in our vengeance realized?

Do we really not know the answer to that question?

While it is our joy to proclaim Jesus as Lord....it is another thing altogether to let him be the Lord of who we are, what we do, what we think, and how we respond when the other things to which we pledge allegiance at least gives us pause to reflect upon whether or not the two things square.

I'm not one who can react to what has happened without a tug of war in my spirit. That this story is one of such global import places it in high relief. But the truth is there's something everyday that challenges the priority of the varied citizenships we hold.

Bin Laden's death is but one of the daily challenges for we who are people of faith. And it is far better to live into the tension of inner conflict than the blind certainty that there is none whatsoever.

But there's this unavoidable truth to which we must all come to some resolution---in the end, there's room for only one loyalty above all.
  • "Choose this day whom you will serve."  Joshua
  • "You're gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."  -- Bob Dylan
  • "The Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." -- the Shema

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter 2011 - "Amazed and Confused"

Here's my sermon for Easter.  It's based upon Luke's account.  I first wrote this seven years ago.  Six days before my brother died.  I've not really lived with it since, but kept gravitating to it this year.  My own journeying this Lent had me in a place that I just didn't have it in me to write something new. But I did find some life in these words and some clarifying of points was helpful. After having done this work for so long, I've come to believe that inasmuch as we preachers scoff at those who only return to previous work, or chronically "borrow" someone else's, to be too prideful not to take another look at something that has been preached before to see if the words still have life is more about ego than it is integrity.  If proclamations had not been repeated over time...then there would be no account of Jesus or the resurrection from which to proclaim kerygma...right?

“Amazed and Confused”
Luke 24.l-12 Easter
Rev’d Dr. Jonathan L. Jeffords, OSL, April 11, 2004
Revised April 24, 2011

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Luke 24.11.12

What is this day about?  What does it mean?

Isn’t that at least some of what lives in us at Easter? 
Children are bombarded with influences and understandings of this day that confuse.

I have a minister friend who used to lead the devotionals at the pre-school at the church she served at the time church. She once asked the children if they knew what Easter meant---

The response?  “We get to hunt for eggs and get candy.’

My colleague said, "But isn’t there something else about Easter we remember, something about Jesus?’  And one little girl raised her hand and blurted out, “You mean Jesus gets to hunt for eggs and get candy too?”  

Amazing and a little confusing!

There’s a photograph of me that captures what it means to be “amazed and confused.”  It’s October, 1992, the 7th to be precise.  I’m coming out of the birthing room at Methodist North and into the family waiting area to announce that my first child has been born, Despite holding multiple degrees from institutions of higher learning, despite knowing the biology of human childbirth, seeing it, witnessing it, was, well, in a couple of words, “amazing and confusing.’ 

See, it was the “physics” of it all that blew my mind, And so, there’s this photograph that captures my face before the first words were spoken that Andrew Scott Jeffords had entered the world, It was true, it had happened but that didn’t make it any less amazing or confusing.  Wow!

The number of "amazing and confusing" moments that occur through the journey of life are many - 
Raising children.
Learning how to share your life with someone else.
Those that occur in the workplace.

In my work as pastor - many "amazing and confusing" moments. 
Figuring out how to balance vocation with being a husband, father, son, brother and friend.

Being with people as the breathe their last - as sacred, as "amazing and confusing" a moment as ever there could be.
I wonder how similar my gaze is in those moments when compared to the ones of the entrances to life I've lived.
Maybe not so different. 
Our entrances and exits on the stage of this earthen sod is the stuff of music and poetry, the touch of the artist’s brush and the liturgies of many a religious tradition.

As true as that might be, our culture does not know what to do with death. In fact, we are so much more in the death “avoidance and denial” business than ever we are death as a part of life. We don’t talk about it without squirming, and if we do it’s usually only because someone’s mortality has forced us to deal with it.

Commentator Craig Barnes, remembers his grandmother’s generation where death was an integral part of life.  
Family members died in their own beds.
Wakes were held in their houses. No one hid it.  It was just part of life.

Now death is compartmentalized in our culture and times.
We deal with it only when all other avoidance options are exhausted and we have no other choice,  The transition of life to death is sacred. Bill Coffin says,
“Death cannot be the enemy if it’s death that brings us to life. For just without leave-taking there can be no arrival; without growing old there can be no growing up; without tears, no laughter; so without death there can be no living....he says, Death is the great equalizer, not because it makes us equal, but because it mocks our pretensions at being anything else."

Yes, death is real. 
No getting around it.
But it is also sacred. 
And for we who hold to the unique revelation of God through Jesus of Nazareth, we know that everything we understand as real, common, ordinary is indeed extraordinary. And on this Easter morning we find ourselves in good company with those first witnesses teased by this amazing and confusing question— 

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

On that first Easter morning, Luke tells us of the women who went to the tomb to do what must be done to the body to prepare it for burial. The ointment and spices were ready: the sad and noble duty was theirs to carry out.

Death, although sacred, isn’t pretty - it stinks.

In fact the stench of it casts such fear in our culture that we’ll do any and everything to avoid its reality. 
Their only worry was the stone that blocked their way, how could they get to Jesus without help?  How indeed!

The men, the ones we traditionally know as the disciples, fearfully locked away as the dreams of what could be lay dead in the stone cold tombs of their spirits. 
It was what it was.  He was dead, and so too, to their minds, was the revolution, the new Reign, the hopes of tomorrow long gone. The only thing ruling their lives now was grief of lost and fear of what all of this meant for them.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? 
Are you there now? 
There’s something here that transcends time.
Our knowledge of Jesus — who he is, what he taught, what he charges his  companions to do—it seems is not enough. Christians are people most needy of assurance, We need those confirming moments that in spite of the evidence, there’s something more still. What a minute, there’s a church word for that — FAITH!
‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Hebrews 11.1
I love Jim Wallis’ definition of faith. Wallis founded the Sojourner’s Community in D.C. He says that -
Faith is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change.’
But how many times did we hear Jesus admonish those even closest to him that their lack of faith prevented them from seeing the Truth. Guess what folks?— Lack of faith still does.

The evidence of faith we are called to pivots on three little letters that begin chapter 24.  
It’s an interesting figure of speech, a conjunction, “but.” As in ‘despite what you see, there is something else going on here that you don’t see, and because you don’t see it doesn’t make it any less real,”

“But,” a conjunction - for all of us who grew up with Schoolhouse Rock, we know all about conjunctions, right? 
“Conjunction, junction what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.”

What a bizarre way to start the Easter narrative from Luke.  
The “But” that begins Luke 24  is a sacred intrusion into death. The gospel always turns on a great ‘however.’ I like that very much. It is so consistent with Jesus, who announced the Reign of God again and again by saying ‘you have heard it said,.,, but I tell you." It is a fitting way to announce that all you think is, it just ain't so. 
And what's the best way to do that?  A great big, BUT!

So, the women make their way to the tomb only to find that the problem they anticipated, that the stone wouldn’t allow them access to Jesus’ broken, dead, body, was rolled away. One commentator makes an interesting point, “why was the stone rolled away? 
To let Jesus out of the tomb, or to let us in it and see the magnificent work of God!”

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The women’s’ encounter with the angel, their remembering what Jesus had told them and their reporting of all these things to the disciples was hardly overwhelming to the disciples. Luke reports that the disciples are left with the thought that it was and ‘idle tale,’ 

I mean, after all, what do the women know? Can’t you just see that? 
You know the role and place of women in that culture and time — status attached only to the men is their lines - couldn’t testify in court — their testimony couldn’t be trusted.

Here's Peter, going to the tomb both to pacify and patronize the women, seeing for himself. 
Seeing the stone rolled away, the linen cloths laying aside. He, amazed and confused, going home. We’re pretty sure he didn’t fully believe the women.  After seeing for himself one wonders if he believed at first either.

The pivotal moment of the Christian faith, where death is both acknowledged and defeated, and he goes home.  Mark’s gospel talks about them being afraid. John has Peter being stupid and John (the beloved one) both faster and smarter than everyone else to know what had happened and why.

Despite what we think, or know, or what we think we know about Jesus and the Resurrection, there is still this — something happened. Something happened that cemented otherwise cowardly disciples to martyrdom for the sake of the Crucified and Risen Lord. The kerygmatic message of Jesus of Nazareth resonated with people moving them from hopelessness to hope, oppression or no.

And something still happens. 
Look at us, here we are. Something brings as here. Something of meaning drives us.  There are many reasons to come and be a part of a church—even this one. 
We choose congregations based upon ideology, theology, political bent, we choose congregations for what they can do for us, provide us, what bells and whistles their program brings — and we find ourselves at churches for what we can bring to them — what of God in us is meant to be offered and shared in the up building of Christian community.  But in the end, none of these reasons matter if they are ends onto themselves.

Ultimately, we must wrestle with this fundamental question - “what do you think of Jesus?” Of what account does the one proclaimed crucified and risen hold sway in your life? In the end—what difference does it make, and how does that difference find expression?

There’s a line in Hebrew Bible, in the Song of Solomon that bears witness to the love of God for humanity. 
Although referring to the love shared between two committed people for one another, metaphorically it holds up.
Set me as a seal upon your heart. For love is strong as death..

But Easter tells us of something else.  Something more. 

Want to know what Easter is all about? 
It’s amazing and confusing, yes, but sisters and brothers in Christ, 
it’s true—not only is love as strong an death...
if Easter proves anything to us it's this
...love is stronger.


-----------
Sources:
Craig Barnes, ‘We’re All Terminal’ April 6, 2004, The Christian Century
Credo- William Sloane Coffin
The Soul of Politics - Jim Wallis

Byzantine Icon 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday 2011 - "No Greater Love: A Life Made Sacred (Sacrum Facere)"

Only slight modifications from last year's unpreached homily.  It gets preached tonight.

There are moments in life when the actions we take, the engagement of our lives with the world around us reveals something, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We can talk all day about who we are and what we believe – but there’s nothing more revealing or indicting our as action or inaction.

In times of greatest moment – to act or not to act - - “to be or not to be - that is the question.”

Act with haste, that is, without prayerful discernment seeking guidance from trusted voices, and action becomes an end in itself. Those who yearn to be seen as the hero who sweeps in and saves the day act hastily. Ask anyone who has been caught up in the aftermath of one’s hasty pursuit of hero worship and they’ll tell you such action may look good on the surface, but there is collateral damage aplenty.
Is there compassion or consideration in the face of collateral damage, or, willingness to put aside being the hero for the common good?

No.

Inevitably, collateral damage, in whatever form it comes, is considered an acceptable loss, and the price of doing business. The end always justifies the means.

Others live with perpetual inaction.

Able to articulate and argue relevant points of whatever their issue is with passion – they fail to act. They feed so much on the energy generated by the problem itself that their motivation to enact a remedy is muted by the fear that if the problem is solved, the “stuff” that feeds their lives is gone.

They know the issue. They know the problem. But they are crippled to do anything about it.

It's a vicious cycle. Indeed, it is pitiful.

Those who refuse to forgive a wrong because to do so would extinguish the rage that fuels the hellish fire of their every day – there's an example of choosing perpetual inaction. Like the hostage who begins to side with very one who has held them bondage, we, who choose inaction to make right a wrong, or to forgive, suffer from a Stockholm Syndrome of the soul - - loving our pain and anger because it’s what we know. Being liberated from it scares us to death. We love our chains more than being free.

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus would say.
"Repent." "Believe."
"Take" up your cross and "follow."

Action words.

It’s the difference between saying you’re a Christian and actually being a companion of Jesus wherever that leads. Action and inaction. The transcendent truth of either approach to life is self defining and a prophecy perpetually self-fulfilling.

Maundy Thursday is one of those days when the abstract and absolute, the flesh and the spirit, the universal and the particular collide. It is one of those occasions where “the rubber hits the road.” Here, at the end of Lent and the start of the Triduum, the Great Three Days, it reveals through action the character of the One who draws us into this worship space tonight. It confronts us with the real life, real time implications of what a life made sacred looks like. It makes us look at Jesus’ life and consider what we’re doing with our own.

Is life made sacred because it just is…or is life made sacred by what we do with it?

So, action, these actions give meaning to what Jesus has taught. They give meaning to what we believe. They make all this Jesus business real – incarnate.

On this night we focus on an action of Jesus found only in the 4th gospel. The Synoptics don’t have it. John, historically considered the last of the canonical gospels written, has a particular agenda – the writer has a bias, and his bias is always for Jesus – his life, his teaching, and the nature of the Christ that has always been.

Only John tells this story – Jesus, at Passover, after sharing table fellowship, takes upon himself an action that will be self-defining hereon, as it will be for all of us who carry his name.

He, the one called, Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, Messiah, Christ – comes now to assume the role of the menial laborer – literal dirty work is not beneath him – he embraces it...he love us in it.

It defines him. He takes a towel, a basin and a pitcher – and washes his disciples feet.

But why?

Rarely in the observance of Christian liturgy do you find something so profoundly intimate as the washing of feet. Maybe that’s why it’s not a sacrament (which it should be), there’s really no way to observe this liturgy with integrity without literally touching someone.

It’s too close, too intimate. It’s not “churchy.”

Getting on our knees and taking off shoes, using water, towels and basins, it’s beneath the dignity of our erudite gathering.

To which I say, “right.” It is. But it is supremely of Christ.

And if we are going to be “of Christ” with integrity, then our action or inaction proclaims the real truth of who we are and who we follow more loudly than any words our mouths can utter.

And maybe that’s what all this dramatic fuss is about this tonight. If nothing else, we observe integrity at work. That’s an awe inspiring thing. For to live with integrity is joyful, because in it we are complete. We are fully what we’ve been created to become.

Don’t forget, though, that just because we live with integrity, even joyfully, does not mean our work isn't hard.

To do so was not a choice absent other options. Think of those presented to Jesus in the wilderness temptations, – No, this was a matter of Jesus' integrity. He did this thing, both in the upper room with his disciples, as well as walk the Via Dolorosa because that’s who he is.

To have done anything other than to be a servant, than to identify with the suffering of humankind by embracing the cross, would have been to have missed his moment – the moment when his action defined who he was.


This is what a life made sacred looks like:

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15.12-17
Another way of seeing this night might be this. Jesus did not miss his moment and he’s imploring us not to miss ours. That our lives are gifts, to be sure, but they are only made sacred when we enact self-giving love as every moment's measure.

Look. Ministry is hard.

Giving yourself away is hard. Following Jesus to where ministry leads you is hard.

It is counterintuitive to everything innately part of our being that cries out for self interest self promotion, self validation and self protection.

Placing yourself in the role of servant and not hero is tough. Doing ultimate good without lusting for credit is extraordinarily difficult.

If it were easy, wouldn’t more folks be doing it?

Instead, too many of us play at Church, play at following Jesus, use our religious pursuits as a contrivance of convenience rather than a covenantal commitment.

Listen, people. To live with integrity or not is far more in our control that we'd care to admit.

It’s in your grasp, sisters and brothers – right here, right now.


Jesus gathers with us in this room, as he has done with his companions for millennia and says, “Here’s who I am, here’s what I’m prepared to do, here are the depths I’m prepared to plunge – for you.”

How far are you willing to go? Could it be that tonight we at least declare that “no greater love have I” than to give myself away, even sacrificially, because of love?

What we do tonight, through bread and cup, is a liturgy, an action, you have repeated many, many times. But as important as that action is of coming forward to partake, consider first and most deeply the life gifted to you by God that it be made sacred by what you do with it remembering always the action Jesus took...made his life sacred, for you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Seven

A lucky number.
The Mick.
Numerological perfection.
Heaven + Earth.

But today?  
The number of years since we lost 
A force of nature.
A twirp.
A son, husband, father, friend.
Brother.

Miss you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reform This!

This is the beginning of a series of posts in which I'll engage in what Bill Coffin calls a "lover's quarrel" with the Church.  Either that, or it's the beginning of vocational suicide.  

I'm not one of those who believes that every answer to our current ills is found in our past. To be sure, what we know of what's been, and what it can teach us in what is can be helpful. In fact, we'd do well to reflect upon what shall be in light of what we find in the rear view mirror.

The "process" theologian in me can honor what's past, but cannot hold it as the sole means to inform, instruct and inspire what is and what will be.

I value orthodoxy, doctrine and canon. I've vowed to honor, keep and teach these things.
But I will not be held captive to it.

"The wind blows where it will. You neither know where it comes from or where it goes."

I find in it something essentially "true" even when I'm convinced some of it, if not all of it is tainted by the marks of human bias, prejudice and the endless lust for exclusive access which, by definition, "excludes" someone - usually always someone not understood because of who they are, where they live, who they love, what language they speak.

As it is with decisions claimed under the banner of divine sanction - our human propensity to royally screw things up is far less "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven," and far more "God, bless this mess----please."

Ask any member of a Bishop's cabinet forced to appoint those whose track record reveals them to be inept in the pastorate while excelling as one person congregational wrecking crews, and you know that "God bless this mess---please" is a petition prayed without ceasing.

The crisis in the stagnation of mainline systems and structures has us languishing for relevance in a world that no longer operates under the 1950's "Leave It to Beaver" simplicity.  And while the world doesn't look like that (and I'm not sure it ever really did) we need to stop acting like the panacea for all our problems is a simple recovery of what's past in order to embrace and respond to what is and what will be.  Our frantic quest for relevance and reform has us doing "leadership summits" that, unless it's just short of 95 Theses being nailed to the General Conference's door, will change nothing.

We have it within us to be more than we are.  We have it within us to reform what we've been.  Ours is a movement whose genesis is reform.

Consider- had we not grown beyond what's been, women would not be clergy in The United Methodist Church.  We pat ourselves on the back that we're so progressive on this front (at least we do now), but let's be honest--we were late to this.  Our Nazarene cousins were forward looking long before we were.

If we were only looking backwards for our future vision, this one would have never happened (unless, of course, we went back to the time of Jesus).  It's one thing to "feel good" about what we've done on this front, it's another thing altogether to have the truth of what we say so fully enmesh into the lifeblood of the Church that it is "truth" no longer in need of an apologist for why it is as it is. It just is.

Some of my United Methodist clergy brothers still struggle with that. They may acquiesce to the concept of women who can be clergy, but see if they want a woman to be their pastor, or even their equal. That women are not appointed to churches with the same consideration as I have been (which is now likely to change, like I care), reveals what we really believe. I have heard a DS  lament his problem of having too many women to appoint in a given year.  The same people who bemoan congregations who don't want women pastors are more likely those who wouldn't want a woman to be their pastor.  The truth is, our system provides rhetorical cover for systemic misogyny carried out every day.  And we all know it.

Let me be clear. Of the very small number of clergy (very small indeed) who I'd seek to be my pastor, there are more women on that list than men.

To be sure, not all women who are clergy are effective.  Not all women ordained clergy should have been.
That puts them in the same company as the men.

I wished cabinets would do more about ineffective clergy content to phone it in while living under the perceived protection of a guaranteed appointment. We don't need an "ineffectiveness policy." We've got one in the Book of Discipline. We haven't the sufficient fortitude to motivate complacency into meaningful ministry or itinerate folks to another means of paying bills, because that's all their appointment is to them. And in the meantime congregations needing someone to help them drink from the well that never shall run dry are parched because their pastor hasn't a damned clue where that well is, and those needing a prophetic swift kick in their status quo aren't getting it for lack of visionary leadership.

Let's have a "leadership summit" on that...shall we?