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We Have Vastly Underestimated The Needs That Surround Us

As we awaken to the reality that our country has elected Donald Trump as it’s next president, I hope what we have also awakened to is the reality of the needs that surrounds us. 47 million people live in poverty according to the 2014 creating a poverty rate of 15%, that’s 2.3% more than at the height of the 2007 recession. In 2015, there were 17.7 per 10,000 people who live in homelessness. In one year, 10 million men and women are victims of domestic violence.

The need for the hope of something great for many, many people is real.

These statics haven’t changed overnight because we elected a new president. These are needs that are ever-present and have become more prevalent since 2007. In this period of recession and recovery, our faith communities have lauded and celebrated legacies of white male privilege in leadership positions patting ourselves on the back for accepting applications for women to serve in leadership positions, but never actually calling them (at least we had a female presidential nominee, that’s progress!). The teachings in our communities of faith, retreats, and trainings have focused on self-care and spiritual formation rather than community-care and spiritual transformation. We have created a reality we wanted to believe: that we our communities of faith are welcoming and affirming of all people and are relevant in the changing dynamics of our society.

But our eyes have been opened this morning.

We must now wrestle with the truth that we are participants in the privileged culture that favors some and not all. We must wrestle, no matter who we voted for, with the times that we felt we should have said something to challenge and question the systemic discrimination we have encountered. We must now wrestle with the truth that as ministers, followers of Christ, and communities of faith we have failed to offer hope in real and tangible ways that connect to the deep needs that surround us.

May this morning bring heartbreak for the part we have played and resolve to play our part in bringing out real, systemic change that meets the needs of our fellow Americans.

Housing People Instead of Stuff

Sometimes sermon prep rocks you to your core…

There are 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America, or more than 7 square feet for every, man, woman and child in the country. (An American Dilemma)

The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line…(Current US Poverty Statistics)

On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. (Homelessness in America)

What is instead of housing our stuff, we housed our neighbors?

Believing When You Cannot See

Since Easter, I have been ministering in this space of uncertainity and doubt, wondering if I heard correctly that I was supposed to step out into the unknown yet again. Sam and I are celebrating a new phase of life as he takes on a new position as Director of Marketing for a Columbia-based company and as we create ministrieslab, but this is not where I expected to be.

But this has held true for so many aspects of my life. I didn’t expect to teach overseas, I wished and I hoped, but I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect to be a private school teacher, but I was and I met my partner in life, in parenting, and in ministry. I didn’t expect to change careers, especially after investing in an advanced degree in education. I didn’t expect to find a church that would call a female pastor because of the people who told me that churches weren’t ready. And I certainly didn’t expect to be experimenting with the future of the church through a pop up worship experience.

But more than anything I didn’t expect to be living a life without a long-range, color-coated plan like the ones I made every year before I started teaching. Each time I have been overcome with the wrestling of my call to ministry, I have been asked to step into the unknown. I have been asked to confront my need for a plan and my fear of not been successful. Each time I have followed that call into the unknown, I have discovered more about myself, including my privilege, my assumptions, my stereotypes, and my past. And each time, I have found a community of faith that supports and encourages me on the journey. Sometimes those words of encouragement are dreams that the person offering them could step into the unknown. Sometimes those words of encouragement are in the form of questions and intrigue.

I can’t find evidence in scripture that we get the whole plan and get to see before we believe, before we follow, but again and again we do find crazy God and Jesus followers who are stepping out, without knowing fully what they are stepping into.

So, I’ll keep packing communion elements and taking them to people who need to hear that they are loved, that they are valued, and that they are children of God welcomed to table fellowship with God as we worship the crazy journey that is following after Christ.

When Ministry Is Hard

 

Ministry is hard when you have to stand beside and pray on behalf of a mom who has lost her 7 and a half week old reminding her that she still has to take care of her postpartum body that hasn’t even healed yet.

Ministry is hard in a political climate that is divisive, filled with name calling, and high stakes.

Ministry is hard in the midst of decline church membership, declining budgets, and increased expectations on time and responsibilities.

Ministry is hard when you feel called to serve, but can’t find a place to call you to serve.

Ministry is hard when you see over and over again the hurt and pain the church has caused so many people.

Ministry is hard when you are ministering to the homeless and hear people remark about how people who are homeless are just lazy because there are jobs available everywhere and you know it’s not true.

Ministry is hard when you find your privilege exposed and your assumptions revealed.

Ministry is hard as our culture looks to our churches for guidance on how to interpret the violence we experience much too often.

Ministry is hard as you navigate what it means to be someone who is called God’s word to God’s people.

Thanks be to God for those men and women who are ministers, especially when ministry is hard.

 

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.