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Words Floating Overhead

For as long as I can remember, I had words floating overhead and in my head and around my head. But for a long time I didn’t have many words to share. I was an incredibly shy child.

For a long time the words floating overhead were overwhelming, intimidating, and unreachable. I knew they were there. I knew they were there for me. But I didn’t know how and when I was supposed to grab them and let them enter into the world of conversations and discussions among people.

I remember in high school the words weighing heavily on my shoulder when I was being encouraged to prepare to be a godly wife and to learn what it meant to be a lady in waiting. I remember thinking to myself, but what about these words. These words that need to be said. Words that need to be heard.

I tried to articulate this and was asked why it had to be me who spoke. Why was I the one who had to share these words? Couldn’t I give these words to a father or brother or my future husband to speak?

I knew I couldn’t because these words are my words; words only I can share. But I also knew these words weren’t words that people would want to hear. They were pot-stirring, trying-to-get-something-started words.

And so for years, I left them there floating overhead not wanting to stir anything up, wanting people to like me, not wanting to disappoint.

But these words are too important now.

Something has to change.

We can’t keep identifying as people of faith and not seeing each other. We can’t keep pretending to be people of faith and engage in an economic system that offers us privilege while our neighbors starve. We can’t keep calling ourselves Christ followers and not associate with the very people Christ ate and fellowshipped with.

And we can’t keep justifying our places of privilege because it makes us comfortable or because we are scared for the future of our families. There are too many of our neighbors who have been afraid of their futures and afraid of whether they will have a future for too long. If we loved our neighbor as ourself, we would be fighting against systems and institutions that discriminate, exclude, and belittle.

But we don’t.

We love ourselves. We love our houses. We love our stuff. We love our privilege.

After the Rain

Last night, I stood on our back porch smelling the post-rain air. The air was particularly sweet because it had been threatening to rain for two days. The herb garden Sam got started for me for my birthday in April had been baking on the steps of our front porch ready to soak up the rain that took two days to come. As I checked on them today, I realized the rain yesterday hadn’t been enough. They already needed to be watered again.

While I left CBF General Assembly renewed by the community and solidarity of those of us who are united in support of the entire LGTBQ community, it was like the rain my herbs got in last night. It offered a brief refreshment, but then the summer heat of reality came back as articles from people who believe that the hiring policy of CBF doesn’t need to be addressed began to appear. I want to believe in the Illumination Project announced by CBF conveniently on the Wednesday morning of the CBF General Assembly. I want to believe that this process will be a way to “provide more light and less heat,” to the LGTBQ question.

But those of us who have who have been baking in the heat of search committees and churches, who have lost out on opportunities to serve in churches because of our gender, our sexuality, because of who we are, are praying desperately for the refreshing rain of a community of faith who will let us grow into the ministers we are called to be. We were hoping we wouldn’t be told to wait, to continue baking in the heat while others search for light.

It’s a step in the right direction, but CBF has to continue to water and tend to ministers of the LGTBQ, ministers who are women, and ministers who are actively and purposely supporting ministers from these communities.

One scattered shower of hope isn’t enough.

Worship When Life Has Not Gone As Planned

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The call Sam and I felt to start ministrieslab to pop up in the midst of need is indeed a call from God to minister to God’s people, but I didn’t realize it was a call to question my own privilege. Privilege that blinds me to need. Privilege that causes me to think I know how to help people. Privilege that makes me believe I know how to plan an authentic and engaging worship service because I hold a MDiv.

Privilege that’s challenged me every week over the past eight weeks as I walk into Transitions Homeless Shelter. As I walked in today, our pianist was practicing, but this week it was different. He had gathered a chorus with him, a chorus that gladly agreed to sing as part of our service. As they ran through Amazing Grace, more and more people came in the open door and set down as I set the Lord’s table for communion.

And with the music, came worship.

Worship not that I had planned, but that the clients at Transitions led. Worship that came from their hearts, their concerns, their voices, their experiences, their needs. Worship led by God’s people. Worship that transformed my understanding of what worship truly is.

I come from a tradition of carefully-crafted worship services with orders of worships, written calls to worship where the leader and people’s parts are clearly labeled, and where those who lead the service often don’t worship because they are concerned about ensuring that everything goes as planned. Today, I didn’t have to start the worship service, but instead I was invited into worship with this community of faith.

There is a beautiful truth that exists in this integrated community of faith: life has not gone as planned. In this community of faith, race, gender, and sexuality don’t matter because the truth that we are all in need transcends all those labels. It reminds me a lot of our chapel experiences at Gardner-Webb School of Divinity that invited us to worship together, black and white, old and young, male and female, and all kinds of different sexuality.

Perhaps instead of planning worship so carefully, we should instead plan on placing ourselves in the midst of need. Because there in the midst of need, we will surely find the presence of God.

 

 

You Have Access

On Thinking Religion this week, Dr. Thomas Whitley and the Reverend Sam Harrelson talk about the access to information we all have at our fingertips. (How they get to this point is a really fascinating trail that’s worth listening to!) We all have the opportunity to read from a wide range of perspectives and we should. We should read about Donald Trump’s conversion experience and we should read about those who wonder if he’s conversion is a political stunt. We should read and we should read a lot about the future of technology and social media and how it is changing our jobs, our families, and our churches.

We should also understand the impact that these changing dynamics have on how we communicate with one another and how we form our religious ideals and beliefs. Even if you think that your absence from these forms of communications makes you immune to the conversations being held in the virtual world, the conversation is going to leak into our face-to-face interactions.

My move to co-pastor with Sam to create something different, a church without walls that has the flexibility to pop up and respond to need is an affirmation of what I believe is the future of the church. This is what ministrieslab is. If you’ve been in church recently than you know the conversation has shifted from going to church to being the church. This isn’t just a clever preaching takeaway, this is the future of the church. And if you think it’s not relevant that church news has been a part of Huffington Post, then you’re missing out on the importance of where we find ourselves in American church life.

All signs point to significant changes in the way church exists in America in the next five years. The question is where will you find yourself in the midst of these changes?

I know where I’ll be. I’ll be popping up in the midst of need with the person I love the most in this world.

The Sound of Sleeping

Summertime brings longer visits with our girls and longer times when all three of our kids together. Last night as we came back to our house, the 7 month old and I from a week at General Assembly and Sam and the girls from a trip from Asheville, the house slowly began to settle into the sounds of sleep that heavy breathing that turns into snoring. Willie, ever the nanny dog, wandered from room to room checking to make sure he heard the soft snoring or quiet from each child before finally settling in our room.

As I listened to the sounds of sleeping taking over our house, I thought of those overnight visits at grandma’s house in which we are all nestled into one room: Ben in the pack and play, the girls on pallets in the floor, and how well they sleep when we are all together. Our western idea of family is that we have rooms for the kids, rooms for the parents, rooms for cooking and eating and living. But this wasn’t always the care. We aren’t too far removed from a time when there were one-room homes. Homes in which everyone was together. Homes in which you could always hear the sounds of sleeping as you nestled into bed at night. Homes where you didn’t need sound machines to mimic the white noise of living and sleeping in close proximity to each other.

And churches were the same way: one room to gather for worship, one room to gather to pray, one room to gather for news. But as we have “advanced” we have built bigger buildings. Buildings with more walls, more divisions, more opportunities to sort and label each other, more opportunities to be separated forgetting that just on the other side of the wall is another human. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space where we can hear each other cough, sneeze, and breathe, we would be reminded of each other’s humanity. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space we would begin to question why we built the walls and divisions in the first place. Was it to allow more people in or has it kept people divided and separate?

Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken and settled instead into being present with one another, we would hear each other’s breathing and remember how miraculous that breathing really is. Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken, our breathing would start to develop a harmonious rhythm as we slowly began to breathe together. And perhaps in the synchronized rhythm, we would hear the sounds not of sleeping, but of peace beginning  to wash over our churches and communities as we sat together without worry or concern of being attacked, labeled, or excluded, and instead breathing that divine breath Creator God shared with us.

On Coming in Second and Competition for Open Positions

“I don’t want to be in competition with you. I want to be in collaboration, in community, in fellowship with you,” I recently admitted to a group of young baptists. It was a reflection on the realization that the open pulpits that exist are not enough for the number of talented men and women who are looking for pastor positions.

Of the 17% of people who attend church, 50% of those people attend megachurch, leaving the other 50% of that 17% who are attending all other churches. It’s a shocking realization for those of us who are in CBF because it indicates a shrinking job market. It’s even more shocking for young baptists who have answered a call to ministry hoping and praying to also provide for their families as they answer that call.

It’s another statistic that reminds us that the church is changing and reminds us that the future of the church might look drastically different than it has in the past 100 years. It’s another statistic that reminds us that bi-vocationalism is going to become more and more important. It’s another statistic that reminds us that those we called classmates and friends could very well be our competition in our next search process experience.

For those who have been down to the final two candidates and not been called, may God’s peace surround you and remind you that even when a church doesn’t call you, you are still called. Even in the midst of competition and a shrinking job market, you are still called. May Creator God inspire you to think of new ways to serve and create in this changing dynamic of church to which we are called.

 

A Fractured Reality

As more and more people begin to arrive in Greensboro for CBF’s General Assembly, there is no question that the press release this morning with a call from Suzii Paynter to work towards unity was meant to set the stage for the conversation about CBF’s discriminatory hiring policy. It sounds a lot like we are following in the footsteps of Methodists, except for one thing. While the Methodists are willing to admit that their process of discovery is in regards to the LGTBQ question, Paynter says:

We are introducing a process not for a single problem or for a single moment.

Her statement reveals the fractured reality CBF has been living in.

Because CBF does not kick churches out of their fellowship, there exists a wide array of churches along the theological spectrum. In fact some of CBF churches are still dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, which had protestors at the funerals of the victims of the Orlando shooting. These dually aligned churches are hoping CBF will do exactly what Paynter’s words indicate: avoid the LGTBQ question entirely. The reality is by avoiding the question, CBF is hoping to maintain the financial backing of churches, ministers, and lay people from a wide range of theological understandings.

But CBF can’t exist in this fractured reality for much longer. Churches and ministers who support the LGTBQ community and who don’t or don’t want to address the question, will keep pushing for a clear answer on what CBF believes. As more and more ministers and churches push, the fracture will become bigger.

And maybe this isn’t a bad place for CBF to be because it mirrors the conflicted climate of the church. The possibility of losing funding or losing members over the difficult conversations of gender and sexuality is a reality that so many churches and ministers are trying to navigate. Maybe by feeling the pressure and stress that so many churches and ministers are bearing, CBF will look to a future that values not money above all, but rather the resurrection power of Christ to transform the world.

When We Carry Each Other’s Burdens

Although we might like to think the church models that are currently in place exhibit the gathering of people trying to interpret and understand the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the 1st Century, they don’t. Our American churches much more closely resemble corporate America with hierarchies, hiring policies, and operating systems implemented directly from the business world.

To think that this model is going to continue to survive in an economy where businesses are having to be innovative and creative in how they engage customers and consumers is naive. The business model from the 1950s isn’t working for businesses, so it certainly won’t work for churches.

Part of the issue with the way our churches are operating is that the pastor and ministers serve as the CEO, vice president, and COO of the church. In this model, the responsibility of the success of the church and the church’s viability falls on their shoulders.

But this isn’t the only responsibility of the ministers. The ministers are also the ones who are to bear the burdens of grief, guilt, shame, sadness, pain, abuse, frustration, confusion, hopelessness, and hurt of the entire congregation. Even in a single-staff church whose membership is forty people, the ratio of burdens to burden-bearer are much too high for sustainability. It’s simply too much for one person to bear in the current economic context of declined giving and membership. Is it any wonder that the rate of  clergy suicide and clergy burnout continues to climb?

Our model is broken and if the decline in giving and church membership and rates of clergy suicide and burnout aren’t red flags that get our attention, perhaps a look back at scripture will open our eyes:

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Paul is suggesting here that to be a community of faith is to bear each other’s burdens, not cast our burdens on those who have been called by God to lead and guide God’s people. In the midst of a letter that reminds God’s people that there are those who will come and deliver a false gospel (ahem model something of God after American culture), perhaps this is just the reminder we need as the people of God. When we commit to a community of faith, we aren’t committing to a preacher or a minister, we are committed to each other. To journey with each other, to hurt with each other, to carry one another’s burdens.

When we carry each other’s burdens, we become evidence of God working in and among God’s people. When we carry each other’s burdens rather than transforming our ministers into burden-bearers, we just might be working to ensure that there will still be pastors and ministers called by God who are alive and vibrant to lead the church into the future.