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‘member that, Mommy?

As our son nears three, he is beginning to understand the passing of time. Terms like tomorrow and yesterday are starting to enter his vocabulary. Tomorrow usually pops up as the time when he doesn’t want to do something like clip his fingernails or go to the doctor. Yesterday usually appears when he is certain there is something we are about to do that we have already done like go to the store or going to school.

With these terms comes the question, “‘member that, Mommy?” especially when there was a particularly fun adventure like going to a baseball game. And every time I hear the question, I can’t help but smile and answer, “I do buddy, that was really fun, wasn’t it?” We are entering the stage where his memories are beginning to make lasting impressions. He understands what it means to be scared and he remembers when he found that spider on the ground. He understands what it means to hurt and he remembers when he got that splinter in his toe. He understands what it means to be happy and he remembers that time we all piled into the daddy’s truck and drove to the beach. He understands what it means to be loved and he remembers the times we turn the music up and dance around the living room.

As I watch this all unfold within him, I wonder if we remember. Do we remember what it feels like to be scared, to hurt, to be happy, to be loved? The words I overhear and the words I read are so often filled with emptiness, filling space with nothingness at best and hurt and pain at worst. Because we don’t want to remember.

We don’t want to remember the times we were scared and so we inflict fear on other people. We don’t want to remember that times we were in pain and so we inflict hurt on other people. We don’t want to remember the times we were happy because what if something happens and that disappears. We don’t want to remember the times we were truly and completely loved because that would ask us to truly and deeply love other people.

Remembering causes us to reflection, compassion, and empathy. Remembering asks us to recognize within us what is within all humans: fear, hurt, loneliness, joy, and love. Remembering asks us to recall the story of God who sent God’s only son to the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. Remembering is a radical spiritual discipline that recalls that we are ash and to ash we shall return. Remembering is a revolutionary call to honor the Divine breath that dwells in each and every human being.

Do this in remembrance of me.

On Missions

Last week I took six youth, one college student, and one young professional down to Conway, SC for Youth Missions Week. I am not a youth minister, but when I found that 25% of my current congregation was youth, I knew there was something missing in the life and work of our church. We needed our youth to have meaningful experiences. We need our youth’s questions and wonderings. We needed to invest in mission experiences and devotion times and jumping in pools and getting caught in the rain. These are the experiences that help our youth understand what it means practically to live a life as a Christian.

And so we packed up three cars with suitcases, food, and crafts and headed to the coast not knowing exactly what we would encounter. We knew of the good work Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church was doing with Palmetto Kids. We knew that partnering was powerful and so we showed up with willing hearts and willing hands to help pitch in. As it turns out, the teachers and youth groups that Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church usually have come to help them in the summers weren’t able to come this year: the same year we felt called to partner with them in their work. Crazy how the Holy Spirit moves and works things together, isn’t it?

As we taught and played game and painted and crafted, we were overwhelmed by the connection we formed with the Palmetto Kids. How could that happen so quickly? How could we do more to help at risks students? Our work was tiring, but inspiring. The faces of those kids, the laughter, and tears as we worked and studied alongside each other is not something we will soon forget.

This is church.

A Season of Abundance

For the last three days, I have been a part of the MEI Grant program in Decatur, GA. As we have talked about the financial burden of young clergy, the changing dynamics of the economy, and the outlook for the role of the church and the minister on the future, I have been overwhelmed with new hope and new vision. It is so easy in ministry to be tunnel vision. We move from one week to another, especially when high holy seasons are so close together. There is always so much to do. I haven’t met a minister who says, “I think I am doing everything I can for the church.” We all want to do more and be more.

Ministers also have the pull of their families and many times other vocations (in fact, 21% of ministers, yes full-time ministers, have another job). This is not unusual to the current state of what it means to work in America, but the role of the minister is different. Whether you are full-time or bi-vocational, the ministry is a distinct profession because you are never “off.” There is no such thing as a part-time minister because of the great weight of walking people through the unexpected and predictable in order to encounter and experience the Divine. There is a reason why burnout among ministers remains so high in the first five years, not to mention that most ministers are in worse health than their congregations. Ministry is an isolated and often isolating call.

And yet it remains essential to the life and work of people and indeed to our country. While ministers carry the weight of being the presence of God through the good and bad, so too do we bear the weight of holding onto hope and holding onto to light in the midst of our current sociopolitical context. We are the ones people turn to in times of darkness and hopelessness. We are the ones offering the invitation to encounter the miraculous, transformative power of the resurrected Christ.

This time to be with other ministers who are working as hard as they can to offer this light and hope into the world has been refreshing and renewing. A certain and definite reminder that we as ministers are not alone that there is a rich abundance in fellowshipping together, learning together, and growing together during this Eastertide season of abundance.

Spiritual Abuse and Justification

The question of how prominent evangelical leaders can continue to support a president whose morality and ethics are questionable is perplexing. How can the same people who questioned Obama’s religious beliefs and berated Clinton’s infidelity defend and justify our current president again and again?

Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.

The simple answer is that the president finds himself affiliated with the right party and evangelical leaders will back this president because he represents the party they want in power in Congress and in the White House. The acrobatics they must engage in order to justify and continue to support him are merely exercises in ensuring power is kept in their own political party. To address the merit and inaccuracies of their theological reasoning in their support of the president is to threaten their power. These discussions whether in person or on a Facebook comment thread quickly deteriorate into naming-calling, debasing, and dehumanizing rhetoric.

This is not surprising or shocking to me as someone who grew up with these language patterns. In fact, I too default to this type of rhetoric when at levels of stress or uncertainty. The only goal is to be right regardless of the hurt or pain caused in the quest to be right. Ryan Stollar notes:

Fundamentalism is an obsession with getting ideology right, rather than a dedication to doing right by people.

This issue-first rather than people-first religion doesn’t allow evangelicals to admit they were wrong or misguided in their justification and support of our current president. To make such an admission, would be to admit that they had misheard God or misinterpreted the idea that “God used Pharoah and God can use anyone.” The whole basis of fundamentalism is to protect and defend the “right” ideology and so no matter what is revealed about this president, the connection with Russia, or the abuse towards women or foreigners, the voice of the white evangelical right will remain in support of this president. It has to in order to prevent an unwarranted theological crisis and a threat to the evangelical, political power.

Those who bravely call out evangelical leaders who support the president find themselves an outsider to a community and people who once respected their voice and insight. This threat of exclusion is so strong that it causes people to recant and repent in order to be welcomed back into the fold:

A day after a Religion News Service interview portrayed retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson as shifting to endorse same-sex marriage, the evangelical leader retracted his comment and upheld the traditional Christian stance instead. “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

This is spiritual abuse at its most powerful.

Spiritual abuse threatens and excludes in order to keep power in the hands of the powerful. But spiritual abuse must also have a theological basis in order to withstand criticism of seeking power. The theological basis for defending our current political state and president is justification or “an acquittal of guilt.” And this is what evangelical leaders have provided for the president: justification for past cases of infidelety, sexual harrassment, and abuse; justification for language they would not approve of from their congregants; justification for debasing and dehumanizing attacks via social media. This justification will continue along with the spiritual abuse that defends it because evangelical leaders are concerned about losing political power and favor.

There is no defense against this type of theology. Those who engage in debating or disarming this theology will find themselves excluded and debased. Instead, what we who are concerned and weighted down by our current state must do is invite those who are questioning and wondering into sanctuaries where they can challenge the theology and rhetoric they have been taught. We must be compassionate and kind rather than belittling and accusatory. We must not name call. We must not call those who have been raised in these communities ignorant. We must be radical in our hospitality of inclusion. We must extend table fellowship full of grace even to those who might later betray us.

This is the work of hope and healing and indeed the work of Christ Jesus who offered new life to all people.

Rethinking What We’ve Always Done

Last night, I took Ben to his first football game. No, it wasn’t college or an NFL team. It was the game between two of the youth who and another youth who was cheering. He loved it!  As I sat there in the bleachers with families from our church, I realized it was Wednesday night. I, as a pastor, should be at church. These families should be at church, right? Isn’t that the way we’ve always done it?

The almost five years I have served as a pastor has been unconventional, to say the least. It’s part of being a bi-vocational minister and part of being a pastor to relatively young churches that started out as church starts. We’ve had Maundy Thursday services on Wednesday and Ash Wednesday services on Tuesday. There is a flexibility and an understanding that schedules don’t always match up with the church calendar.

I know churches are struggling to rethink how to bring people, especially young families, into the church, but what if we started rethinking church? What if instead of always trying to bring people in, we sent ministers out to football games, to cheerleading competitions on Saturday mornings, to violin recitals? What if we rethought what it means to be a minister of a church?

I know the pressure is great to bring people into the buildings we are paying for. I know it comforting to have ministers in the offices we have decorated, but the model we’ve used for over fifty years doesn’t fit the lives and the experiences of the community in 2017

Church membership is declining, church attendance is declining, what will it take to rethink what we’ve always done? When will we allow space and conversations to dream about the future of the church? The future of the church that is meaningful and relevant to families and individuals who are living right now.

 

Eastertide

I didn’t grow up in a community of faith that observed the church calendar, so the different seasons we celebrate throughout the year are still fascinating to me. Right now we are in the season called Eastertide. I love the image of riding the wave of the joy and resurrection throughout the next fifty days.

As I’ve thought more about it, the realization has washed over me that the joy of the Resurrection wouldn’t be quite as joyful without the deep grief of the Crucifixion. And so the life of the disciple is the ebb and flow of grief and joy, doubt and hope, peace and uncertainty. Back and forth, ebbing and flowing, as we follow Jesus Christ.

In those times of low tide when joy and resurrection seem but a damp, dim line far upon the shore, may we remember this. In the times of high tide when the pull of grief and doubt into the ocean seem impossible, may we remember this.

May we not teach only the high tide of Christianity, but recognize that grief and doubt and uncertainty are part of the Easter story, too. Pain and suffering, joy and hope, all wound up together in Eastertide washing over us over the next fifty days.

A New Hope

Yesterday, New Hope Christian Fellowship called me to be their pastor and I said a wholehearted YES!

A New Hope…started a journey and ongoing battle between the dark side and the Jedi. A journey that has continued onto this generation in the form of new characters, missing story pieces, and a bond of love for Star Wars between parents and children. Perhaps new hope does just this, unites us, challenges us, and invites us to participate in a greater story.

Anew hope…If there has ever been a time that our world and our church needs anew hope, doesn’t it seem like now? As a millennial, I have certainly found myself in periods of church hopping and church knocking and church blocking. All of these stages and phases indications of my desire to find a place to serve where my experiences match the need surrounding a community, but I know so many other people who are looking for communities of faith to belong to. People to gather to worship with. People to gather around the table and eat with. People to call when life is so overwhelming that you know you can’t do it on your own.

People looking for a new hope. Thanks be to God for the community of faith called New Hope Christian Fellowship who are dedicated to learning, growing, and ministering to the community together. What a joy it is to be called Pastor by you!

 

But, Is There Childcare?

Ben’s no longer an infant. He’s not quite a toddler. We’re in this strange phase of development some have termed pre-toddler for the ages of 12-18. He just moved up classes at his drop-in nursery where there are ramps to run up and slides to slide down. There are toy doors to open and close and close and open and open and close, perhaps one of his favorite past times right now.

As a mother, I’ve hit the stage where I don’t have a baby. I don’t have an infant. There’s a stark difference in the conversations I have in passing. It’s no longer, “Is he sleeping? Are y’all sleeping?” Instead it’s “Is he walking? Is he talking?” The questions indicating that no more and more each day he is developing characteristics that will last him into adulthood. But the strange phenomenon is that the more adult-like his characteristics become, the less people think about his needs.

“As I am invited to participate in communities desiring to shape and mold the future of the church, my question still remain. “Is there childcare?” A shocking question that reveals assumptions that childcare is something for parents to “take care of” not something to plan for in order to ensure that the voices of young parents and young professionals are wanted. We inherently understand that the future of the church lies in the hands and feet of these young professionals and their children. We just don’t understand their needs enough to care to meet those needs instead we criticize these young families saying, “They just don’t come,” or “You can’t count on them.” 

Perhaps this missing demographic is missing because your community of faith isn’t considering how to set the table, provide the infrastructure for the lives they lead. The day in and day out routine of changing diapers, filling sippy cups, and finding high chairs. The strain and pull asking all they have. Perhaps what these families need is someone to think ahead for them, someone to want them at the table so strongly that they have already planned to take care of their children.

Are we planning for a church that has been or a church that will be?

A Vow to Create

The spiritual practice of engaging in a vow of silence is a discipline that comes to us from the monastic tradition. It’s a spiritual practice that is centuries old. The idea being that that silence “is a means to access the deity, to develop self-knowledge, or to live more harmoniously.” Silent retreats have been opened to people seeking a re-centering and a renewed focus.

But at this time and place, a vow of silence is not what I need. I need a vow to create. I need to engage in the holy work of trying to create order out of chaos; beauty out of pain; joy out of grief.

I vow to create sanctuary: safe places to explore what God is calling you to do and who God is calling you to become.

I vow to create time and space for reading, research, and reflection pursuing this journey of becoming.

I vow to create table fellowship sharing the body of Christ and the cup of salvation with those gathered around God’s table.

I vow to create journal entries, blog posts, poetry, and, yes, maybe even a book to share stories, ideas, hopes, and dreams.

I vow to create chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin muffins, banana bread, potato soup, and broccoli and cheese soup to offer nourishment to body and soul.

I vow to create towers of cups and blocks that most certainly will be knocked down by a 14 month old accompanied by cackles and giggles.

I vow to create new recipes, not knowing if they will be good or bad.

I vow to create bathtub explorations that involve pipes transformed into snorkeling gear in underwater adventures.

I vow to create french braids that will probably fall out and have to be re-created.

I vow to co-create alongside the people of God using their God-given gifts to change the world.

I vow to co-create alongside Creator God, working and striving, however slowly, towards….

And it was good.

I Just Want You to be….Kind

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I admit it, I teared up as Handy Manny and his tools delivered gifts to the major for kids whose parents couldn’t afford presents this year. Maybe it was because Ben and I had just returned from Florence where we dropped off presents and bags of food for children who lost their homes or whose parents lost work during Hurricane Matthew. Maybe it was because I am overwhelmed by Santa pictures and Santa Christmas lists and am wondering how as a parent you teach your children to think of the people who don’t have food or toys during Christmas before they rattle off their own lists of wants.

Gross-Loh in her book Parenting Without Borders explains:

In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005 it was to become comfortably rich.

This is disturbing because it means our children are thinking first of their own comforts and seeking those comforts whatever the costs. This lack of empathy is part of our culture now and engaging in some of the cultural practices especially around this time of year may just be teaching our children that this is what life is about.

Gross-Loh explains:

[A] survey of high school students from five different U.S. schools asked them to rank what they wanted in life. Did they want to be happy? Did they want to be good, caring for others? Two-thirds of the students ranked happiness above goodness, and said they believed their parents held the same goal for them.

Wow.

Perhaps as a parent, I need to revisit my own rhetoric and refrain from saying I want you to be happy or asking what would make you happy and instead ask what would be the kind response? What could you do to show you care for someone? Perhaps as a parent, offering the invitation for our children to choose between thinking about themselves first and thinking of other first would open up conversations and truths within our children we haven’t seen before. Perhaps it’s within this next generation that hope, love, joy, and peace reside if we but offer the space and place to let them be who they are rather than who we want them to be.

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