The N-word

Words have power.

I have known that since the day I got caught walking home from school with Billy Costello shouting out every four letter word we could think of, right up to the moment we realized my mom was standing on the front porch listening to us.

The NFL has recently begun a discussion on banning the use of the “n-word” on the field of play. A word with lots of power. While watching ESPN on Sunday there were two shows that made a strong point of this. The first was a round table discussion of players and personalities surrounding the game discussing the pros and cons of this ban. It was intriguing to see the variety of views about this subject. It ranged all the way from never should any player black or white EVER utter that appalling word. The other extreme was protecting the use of it, but only among black players. I struggled to come close to a term that other races might try and “claim” in order to gain a higher ground on the traditional understanding of the term. One term that came to mind was the recent country music phenomenon of claiming “Red Neck” as a term for good friends supposedly meaning just a nice person with traditional standards. But words have power and this did nothing to help me understand how this discussion was even worth having.

Nobody I know trying to claim “Redneck” in a positive manner is anything but a redneck in the traditional bigoted manner with nothing redeeming about the use or manner of the term. This is pretty close to where I stand with the n-word too. I like to think I understand the notion that claiming the term can take away the power from it, but it doesn’t. The redneck folks still use the n-word with the same fervor and hate it has always carried. I often pick up on the same hate when used within the black community too. I don’t think all the people using this in their community have any endearing ideas in mind when saying it to their neighbor. In my mind, the word has little or no way to be redeemed. The word has power that can’t be reduced.

The most ridicules term I could come up with that a group might try to claim in order to redeem was Nazi. But there is no redeeming that word. It will always stand for intolerance and injustice. The power of that word infuriates many even if simply read.

The show on ESPN to follow this discussion was the 30 for 30 special about James Meredith the first black student at Ole Miss, juxtaposed against the national championship of their football team that same season. I don’t think it was a coincidence that ESPN re-aired the special right after this discussion. It was in fact brilliant. I had seen this special before and it was even more emotional to watch this time as previously. It at times made me sick to be a human being and ashamed to be white. At other times, it stirred such pride in the selfless actions of others I felt tears welling up. The recent incidents on the campus of Ole Miss, including the hanging of a noose around the neck of the James Meredith statue on the campus and the hurling of the n-word at a few black students around campus, only solidified for me that there is no way conceivable in my mind for this term to be redeemed.

Words have power, sometimes power beyond anybody’s control.

For me, I guess, some terms just need to be returned to the vault never to be reclaimed or seen again. This is one such term (along with Nazi while we are at it). Our society has too much to struggle with to spend time and energy on any attempt to re-coin such ugliness. That is not to be confused with never speaking about the incidents again but dealing with them in a manner that will lead to a better humanity.

After all, at the end of the day our goal should be that we left the world just a little bit better than it was at the beginning. So let’s not let the power of words ruin it for us.

Rethinkchurch RethinkAdvent

Day 25: Light

Good Day and welcome to day 25 (hear Bob & Doug Mckenzie reference)

light

 

Light is such an amazing thing. It always wins out over dark. Just like nothing can stop water forever, light will always overcome dark. I think that is why it is such a powerful image in our faith and most every faith tradition in this world. The sun does rise. The candle does illuminate the darkness. The night light brings comfort. The light overcomes the dark.

The western understanding of faith may be experiencing a period of darkness but I can say without any question it will overcome the darkness. When it comes out it may no longer look like many remember but hey lets be honest we don’t have that great of a memory in the first place! The Pious Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas (or even say Happy Holidays). Christmas was not even a federal Holiday until 1870! Things change all the time, and very often for the better. But the light shines and we can never imagine another way. Until we do.

let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our God] in heaven.

And we will overcome, not somehow but Triumphantly!

Day 24: Joy

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You ever notice how contagious Joy is? It is down right how annoying it is when you want to piss and moan about whatever it is that is bugging you and then they joy filled person comes passing by. Makes you just want to smack ’em sometimes, but you can’t instead you find yourself being sucked into the joy. You find the smile creeping across your face. That is the Joy we the “people of God” are supposed to be known for. When Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?” He was making more of a comment on Joy in the presence of all people than some giant theological step for the Catholic church. Share Joy not smite! That is what he was saying.

The church is to make a Joyful noise to the lord, always. That is supposed to be what we are gathering for! Nehemiah said eat drink and be merry, and Share it! That is where we will find our strength.

Go  eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord, and be Joyful!

Day 23: Neighbors

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Funny how well this one would work for today or yesterday. It seems so obvious, yet it just isn’t. Even “us” progressive minded folks don’t tend to love our evangelical neighbors much. But love your neighbor is a core understanding. I think like my friend Derrick Weston said the other day in a blog post it just gets tiring. It wears a person out loving your neighbor. It is both the core piece and the hardest part to our entire faith and existence. So how about instead of trying to love those….. um I mean, focusing on what we don’t have in common, lets just focus on feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked/oppressed and let the rest just fall into place.

Day 22: Sign

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Do you need a sign? What more of a sign can you ask for than the obvious. What signs do you see today that tell you something is up? Are they this obvious? Maybe more? What do these signs call you to do?

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. (Acts5:12)

Day 21: Prophet

Friar Richard Rohr

I think there are many prophets living among us. The word however has become overburden. When we hear a prophet speaking our heart knows it, even if the word makes us deny it. Richard Rohr is a prophet among us this day. He is calling us to a new/old way of thinking and seeing our faith.

One of the things I like about the Hindu faith is they are much more free with the word Prophet. If somebody has a word that somehow moves us they can be a prophet. We need to work towards recognizing the prophets among us and the change they call us to.

Day 20: Good News
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My biggest dream in having children was passing my love and passion for skiing onto my own kids. On Saturday I got a glimpse of that future when my 8 year old son (along with his cousin) skied with joy down the ♦”expert only” chair. I know now that there is good news ahead. I now have hope for a new generation that has a love for the outdoors that cares. It really is Good News that future generations can and will change the world for the better. Now all we gotta do is wait.

Day 19: Patient
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On Friday it snowed in Seattle. Seattle doesn’t do snow well. In fact they ought to just shut down the roads and tell everybody to stay home. Instead these folks hit the road and forget to bring their common sense with them. Being a person with lots of experience driving in snow I have to be patient with the fellow drivers. Patience is something I’m not good at. But I must be. Not everybody is ready for such dramatic change so quickly. I can’t expect they will be. Instead I have to be patient. Wish me luck!

Day 18: Mercy

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Mercy is what the church has to give. Mercy is what the church over regulates. Today is one of those days as an ordained pastor that I am ashamed to be known as a “Christian”. Mercy is what the church is supposed to teach comes in bountiful amounts. We are to show that mercy has no constraints, that is abundant as the oxygen we breath. Yet today the United Methodist Church showed the world that instead of being the mediator of mercy we are the enforcer of judgement. Today, the United Methodist Church had an opportunity to show love and mercy to one of their own who was bestowing God’s love upon a couple committing their lives to one another. But instead of taking up the torch for a broader understanding of the kingdom, they chose to stick to some book of “rules”.

Mercy is something the world has an abundance of. We just don’t know how to exercise it. The church is supposed to teach us.

Day 17: Free
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Free! What does it mean to be free? Are we free? Or does the church instead bow to a broken capitalist system? Does the church compromise it’s own ethics in order to live up to an economic system that is often counter to it’s values? Too often I see the church living to the value of the world. However if we believe that we are supposed to be a source of cultural change maybe we need to set ourselves free. Maybe we need to be more willing to be accused of being Marxist and recognize that our existence is not wrapped up in the value of our pension funds but in the actions we take. Free is not a savings to our bank account. Free is what the church is supposed to be to from the monetary system that has enslaved it. Let us find a way to exist beyond this system to show there is a better way.

Day 16: Strong
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To be honest this #rethinkadvent blog is getting tough. I have thought of quitting but oddly enough I have folks reading. So today may see formulaic but forgive me.
Strong is something we in the western world don’t do well, unless of course it is a show of excessive force. We in the western world don’t tend to preserver when things get tough. The church is no different. When we try something different the second we get negative feedback we quit what is making some friction and go back to “the way we have always done it”. If we are going to #rethinkchurch, we must be strong. We must preserver. We must push on in those tough places of new experiences to find that thing that will make a difference. But we can’t succeed until we accept that we are strong enough to do it.

Day 15: Rejoice
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Rejoice for there is hope.
This season as a life long (like the entire existence of this team) Seahawk fan has been one of rejoicing. Back in 1976 this team left a lot to be desired. Over the years there have been glimpses of excitement but with the exception of 2005 (when the steelers stole the super bowl from us) this has been a team that has been tough to follow. I even threatened to leave the first year I was living in Denver. I’m glad that didn’t stick!
One thing about this team is that when things were not working out they didn’t just dig in, they made changes. It took them time, and many failures. But as we see this season they may have all cylinders firing. So we can always rejoice knowing that there is always hope and we can’t quite just cause things look bad. So Rejoice! Rejoice! Cause Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Day 14: Gather
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This is my family gathering place on Sunday morning. Our current pastor is Charles Osgood. We watch the stories and sometimes have to even hit pause to not miss anything because our conversation takes over. I’ll be honest, it’s not a good replacement for a worshiping community. It does not exactly motivate us to get out into the world and make a difference. But again, to be honest, neither did a formal church.
We are called to gather to remind each other what a Christian community can be. That gathering place will never be perfect but it needs to a place that makes us want to be better people. It needs to be a gathering place that is so concerned with what is happening outside the doors that it is willing to sacrifice everything it has to make a difference. It needs to be ready to move the gathering place to where it is most needed and we need to be ready to move with it.
As the author of Hebrews tells us: …let us consider how to [encourage] one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to [gather] together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…
Gathering is an important aspect of the community but don’t forget the ultimate point of it.

Day 13: Justice

Justice

Justice is what the world is looking for. Justice is what the church must emulate. When the church acts unjustly to people or animals or the environment it fads from relativity. This is a must if we are to rethink Church. The church is what people should be able to point to when the question of what is justice is asked.

… and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? -NRSV

Day 12: Hope

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Hope. This is a kind of corny picture. It is a co-worker at our company Christmas Part. Here he has hope that nobody will take his prized gift in the White Elephant Gift exchange. But it is more than that it is the image of all of us. It is the hope we have that we have made the right choice, chose the right path, followed the correct guru. Whatever it is we each have hope for tomorrow.

Hope is what gets us up in the morning and lets us rest at night. Hope is also what the church provides (or should provide). I”m not talking about some cheesy hope that one day we won’t burn in some idea of eternal fire, but hope that one day the capital “WE” will figure it all out and make life better for the human race. Hope is what Advent forces us to look toward. It is the piece that makes waiting for “Christmas” worth waiting for. Don’t rush to quickly to the gifts and “stuff” of December. Instead wait patiently for what is to come but wait with Hope!

Day 11: Steadfast/Steady

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This was a tough one. I wanted to get a picture of my own traffic, but that isn’t safe. When I think of steadfast I don’t currently think of myself. After all I did not hold steady instead I got out of the kitchen. But a steadfast attitude is going to be what it takes to rethink church. We need to move in a new direction and we can stop just because it becomes uncomfortable (see that is what I did and now I don’t get to play those change games anymore)

So don’t follow my lead. Get in there and push on!

Day 10: Holy

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Holy? What is Holy?  According to Wikipedia  holy is that which is perceived by religious individuals as associated with the divine. The problem is who gets to be the arbiter of what qualifies as holy and what doesn’t If we are going to #rethinkchurch we must let go of our definition of Holy. We must be willing to broaden our understanding of Holy. Many of my friends (many other pastors) have often felt that maybe beer would work better for our communities when it comes to Communion. The point is to share in a common drink that is enjoyed by many. Its not that wine was something special in that day. It wasn’t! But if you ask many churches today if they would be willing to do this almost all of the time you will get a “NO!” Yes in my (not so) humble opinion Holy is a key component in rethinking church . Seek out the holy in the other but do it from their perspective. You may be surprised what you find.

Day 9: Delight

Powder Tracks

It is such a delight to float through the snow as if flying just over the ground. It is a feeling and sense I search far and wide to replicate when I can’t get out into new snow.

I went into ministry with the same passion. I went with a sense of passion to find the places where God was at work. It was in those places that I felt the same delight as when I was skiing over fresh powder. It wasn’t easy to stay there very often however because that place was a place that lacked control. It was not easy to replicate and it surely was not for the faint of heart. In order to rethink church we need to find that place of delight where our biggest passion meets the worlds greatest need. We need to take the church to that place and live into our call to be light in the world.

Where do you find delight? What’s stopping you from being there now? Tell me how you would delight to #rethinkchurch

Day 8:Wisdom

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When I first began to think of wisdom I wanted to be clever and play off the spirit/wind word play found in Greek and Hebrew. But the wisdom of the spirit can become too aloof when we cloak it in such play on word. To rethink church during this rethink advent season I think we need to be plain about it. We need to look to those spirits that have done a lot more rethinking then we have. So what better timing than to use Nelson Mandela as my image of wisdom in rethinking church.

“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”

“Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.”

“I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Day 7: Ready
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The manger scene is set. But as tradition goes in our house (or so I try) baby Jesus is not in the scene. We can’t come to the manger with our own expectations. We need to come ready for anything.
We need to be ready and brimming with anticipation of what will happen next. The spirit is afoot and she has no rules. It only happens ‘like it always does’ when we aren’t willing to just be ready.
So be ready for whatever is going to happen, but also be ready for it to not look l like it always has.

Day 6: Awake
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The funny thing is, the sun is still gonna rise tomorrow, at least for the foreseeable future.
So why not plan on the future being bright? Why not plan on things getting better? Why not assume the best?
Mark my words, the sky is gonna fall one day. But in the meantime we have a lot more stuff to do. Hungry people to feed, thirsty people to provide water for, people in need of clothing, sick and imprisoned people who would love a visit.
But for now just “stay awake”.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Parker, a co-worker with a better view than mine)

Day 5: Flood
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This is the town of Estes Park where I lived until very recently. It experienced a “1000 year” flood this past fall. Currently they are looking at what they need to do to not suffer the kind of destruction this flood did again. What are we the people that make up the church doing to not suffer the devastating losses we have experienced?

Day 4: Time
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We keep hearing; “it takes time to change things” or even “time is on our side” the most annoying is likely “all in due time”. Let’s be honest culture announced back in 1966 in Time magazine that God is dead. Yet the church didn’t pay attention. They felt the pronouncement didn’t deserve a response. And so the church continued it’s slide into irrelevance.
Time is indeed the only true commodity in the universe and I hope we (the church) can finally begin to recognize our Theological role in helping to make time count.

Day 3 Peace (piece)
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It’s all a mess right now but to realize peace we must know we are an important piece of what is to come.

Day 2: Bound
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Day 1: Go
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As part of my Advent new beginning I am hoping to re-engage the faith component of my life.
As such I’m talking on the simple task of a photo a day through Advent, with many other folks I know,  to stir in thoughts about Advent and a new kind of church. With that here is day one (yesterday) for the word/thought/idea of “Go”

The following days will be as follows:
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2 weeks can be a long way

2 weeks. It can seem like an eternity. When I began this new phase of discovery 2 weeks seemed forever. Every time the screws were turned tighter two weeks seemed like they may never end. Two weeks would go by hearing every single click of the seconds on the clock. My world was being turned upside down. Now 10 long months down the road I’ve just finished the first two weeks in a new(old) career. I have a fresh perspective on what the corporate world feels like. Like the problems they face are very real and very important I can look at them with a different perspective when I think about it in relation to sitting with a family as one of their own dies. I can better rationalize an emergency of a late shipment when I think of taking calls from parents whose child didn’t come home last night.

I think I’m ready to go whole hog on it this time. I’m ready to give it my all but with a new perspective that seems to bring everything into perspective. Not only that I don’t need to overreact to every little problem that arises in my realm of responsibility but that I can think back to the incredible honor it truly was to serve those families and individuals that called me “pastor”.
While I never would have chosen the path I took to get here, I know I’m here, for now. I know that I can do this. I also know that I will miss that. Perspective is a powerful thing that sometimes takes a life to recognize and sometimes we realize we have found in it just two short weeks.
The grass withers and the flowers fade but our God is here forever.

Excelsior

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As I sit here cruising at 35,000 feet I just finished watching Silver Lining Playbook. This comes on the heels of a pastor event that spent a week tugging at my emotions. The timing of watching this movie I really wanted to see was rather perfect. This movie did something to move me to see something more about my life I have not deal with during my introspection.
I come from a family that struggles with a variety of mental roadblocks in our lives, including my own. To be honest we have never dealt with them well. They are typically put into the background and not dealt with together. Through these struggles I have worked to remember that we love one another. I realized watching Hollywood’s rendition of family dysfunction that this method does not work well.
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano comes home and moves back in with his parents, back to the same setting he grew up in, with its lack of attention to mental disorders and struggle to show love. His goal is to reconcile with his ex-wife by becoming a person that shows love and care. It is not until Pat meets Tiffany and is forced to deal with his and her mental dysfunction that he begins to experience a true feeling of love.
As I fly toward home I can’t help but think how can I do better. I know that it takes patience. I know that it takes perseverance. Must of all I know that it takes love.
Growing up my family did not deal with our mental struggles well either. Nor did we do such a good job of showing outward signs of our love. I think that was tough on me and made it tough for me today to understand showing/experiencing love in a positive light. I want to end that cycle for my family now.
I’m not talking about the signs of love such as giving lavish presents on Christmas or Valentine’s day but a love that is acted out daily. I want to show my family the love I have for them and that they deserve. I want to be more aware of what is important to my wife and kids today. I want to be able to set aside those things that distract me from being present with them. I want to hug and kiss my son’s good night every night. I want to hug and kiss my wife daily not only so she feels the love but so our kids will see that we love each other and them.
Life is to short to not strive for happiness, to seek good, and to look for those silver linings. I thank God for showing me this love and today I hope I can make a step toward being the love I wish to see in the world

In Church today…

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I went to church today. Many of you may think well yeah but you’re a pastor your supposed to. But I haven’t been going. I haven’t wanted to set foot inside the building that symbolizes the organization that has hurt me so deeply. The organization that has been unfair, unyielding, uncaring to me and to my family, that has made me to feel that I don’t care if I ever go again. 

Then some dude decided to shoot up an elementary school.

I sat at home on Friday reading news reports and articles. I wept with our president as he shared with the nation the hurt that had been done. I was at a lose for what to say or do. The article in the Onion “Fuck Everything, Nation Reports, Just Fuck It All To Hell” seemed to encapsulate my feelings the best. In fact when my wife came home I said “can’t we just run away, can’t we just go live in some tiny little house get simple jobs and just live with our kids.”

She said, no.

On Saturday I spent a lot of time reading of all things sermons. (I actually have to admit I have been reading sermons most Sunday mornings since I stopped going) Many of these sermons have been curated into a collection by Landon Whitsitt on his blog.

They all made me think about pain, and anger, and frustration. But also Joy, and Hope, and faith.

I began to think that we can’t let some lunatic stop us from spreading Joy and Hope and Love.

We can’t stop finding ways to transform the world, from “being the change we wish to see in the world”.

I began to realize that some dumb ass denomination can’t stop me from sharing Hope, It can’t stop me from spreading Joy. It can’t stop me from shouting good news of transformation to the world that comes through of all things a bastard child born on the run.

So I went to church today. I sat in the back row all by myself. I sung the Advent Hymns. I took communion. I heard a pretty good sermon. I got hugs from some people I knew. I experienced a little bit of that transformation that I know comes from having faith in the creator of all that we know. 

And I said Amen.

The End is here

what follows is the statement I will read today at the final time I address this congregation. It is both a personal statement and a recognition of the state of this thing called church. It is not about me specifically or the church I was serving but it is about the situation we find ourselves in…

 

I come here today sad. Sad not only for what has occurred over the latter part of the summer, but also sad for the lost opportunity we may have realized. While change is never comfortable it is a necessary part of life and something the church in the world is running out of space and time to avoid.

I am a change agent. I’m a change agent that sometimes may push too hard to make it happen, now; however I feel the church must change in how it goes about being and doing church in order to be an effective agent of the Gospel, and that this change is imperative, for your kids, for my kids, and for their kids as well.

I just read an article that suggests that a growing church is a dying church and that maybe the best thing for the church is to allow it to die. We must remember the road to Easter goes through Good Friday; the way to resurrection goes through the crucifixion. When Jesus told us to take up your cross and follow where did you think it would lead? Jesus makes it clear that in order to be reborn we must be like that grain of wheat, which must fall to the earth and die, in order to become the bread of life.

Even though I will not be on this journey with you all I know that God is at work, throughout the world bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Even though that road is a tough one, we must travel it with determination.

It is no secret to anybody that has gotten to know who I am, that I am a perfect text book example of ADHD. This is not a recent change in my life either. I have lived my entire life with it and am currently raising a son with this issue too. We make every effort to live in a world that rarely understands our ADHD minds. My family and I work together with how to successfully be a family amidst this exceptional mindset. I have also been working with doctors and counselors to help lighten the impact this difference has on others while gaining a better understanding of how to capitalize on the benefits it brings.

I’m always open to and embrace new ways to improve myself and I look forward to the opportunity to focus on strengthening the knowledge of myself in the future. I have always learned throughout my education, that those who provide a high level care must also receive a high level care to remain effective. In this way it is not a journey alone but instead a journey together just as Christ calls us to.

I want to acknowledge that I have been actively involved with youth ministry for 15 years now. Some people like to ask; when are you going to want to become a “real pastor.” I typically respond, I can’t think of a better group of people for me to relate and pastor, than these energetic souls!

One thing I have learned over those years in youth ministry is that at any event or gathering that involves youth, opinions will vary across an entire gamut from one youth to another. This is further confused when parents are involved. Kids can convey nearly the exact same account to two different parents and receive very different responses. Throughout all of this I have made every effort to assure that we always strive to have fun, acknowledge God’s presence in that moment, and kept things positive. This is the case whether it be enjoying a cup of coffee or on a journey across the country to participate in mission work.

Over that time period it has been important for me to relate effectively with students. I can’t expect them to come to me but instead I must meet students where they are. Regardless whether that is social media today or the Ska Punk music of 15 years ago or yes even crowd surfing at a Switchfoot concert. I have been told by numerous people that this is the strength I bring to working with students. They know they can talk to me, without judgment, they can trust me, that I understand them, and they know I will be there to help them, even at dinner time when their dog fell through the ice on the pond.

This enthusiasm has been an ally to me in a growing spectrum of places. I have engaged it when working with folks older than myself too. The time I got to spend at Good Sam has been so special for me. I have brought my crazy ideas for change partnered with my enthusiasm for God and these folks got excited about it and what it could mean to the church in the future. I had always been told you can’t change these people’s mind, but I have seen these people embrace their discomfort for the sake of God’s work in the world.

It is very evident that now is the time for me to leave this setting. And I ask you to support me in that decision. As I go from here to explore what ministry the Holy Spirit will lead me next, I do go with sadness. But I also go with excitement. Excitement knowing that God is walking with me on this journey. Excitement for the openness that I will have to combine my outlandish desire with the eccentric needs of the world and to serve God at that intersection.

Thank you for the time we have had. Thank you for your continued prayers as I discover what’s next, as I will also pray for you. I leave you with words told to me by a seminary professor, most often just prior to an exam, she would say you will get through this… not somehow, but Triumphantly! And I send you with this knowledge firm in my own mind:

We are commanded to love and commissioned to go. It’s exactly that easy. And it’s exactly that hard. But the One who created you, called you, loves you, and sends you, also goes with you. Always. To the very end of the age. So Go, in peace, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to love and serve our God. Amen.

 

end note: I give thanks to the many people I borrowed ideas from and did not give proper credit you know who you are and I can’t think you enough for your thoughts that stretch us all.

All Heretics Day

Preached Sunday June 3, 2012 at Presbyterian community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

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Today is Trinity Sunday

The day we acknowledge a doctrine that strictly speaking is never mentioned in the Bible.

The “Feast Day” as they are called was not celebrated until the 14th century and then only in the west. It came about when Pope John XXII made an edict proclaiming it. The idea of the Trinity dates back to the 2nd century from a theologian named Tertullian.

This doctrine was first suggested in relation to debates that were raging between two groups of adherents to “The Way of Jesus”. The 2 groups could not agree on the makeup of Christ physical being. The argued if he was wholly human how could he also be wholly divine too? How can these two states co-exist?

This debate was raged between the homoousios meaning of the same substance and homoiousian meaning of like substance. (there were more accurately 3 sub categories of this camp but that is just way to technical) To be honest I could very likely prepare an entire semesters worth of discussions about just this one debate, but I don’t want to.

When this fight finally ended although it is still not cleared up, the Nicene Creed stood in testimony to the winning side but strictly speaking the western version was not the same as the eastern version.

The point however that I want to make is that there was a winner and there was a loser. The winners were deemed Orthodox while the losers were labeled heretic! It was a classic winner/loser conclusion and for the next 1000 or so years the Orthodox folks went about hunting down and often times killing the heretics. The goal of this was ultimately to wipe away this disparaging train of thought.

After all we can never forget history is written by the winners and the losers books are piled on the fire. Gretta Vosper a Canadian philosopher is quoted as saying:

“Church history, like most history, is generally told from the perspective of the victors, those who made the rules and reinforce them.  Those who dissented from the accepted beliefs of their time – often risking infamy, isolation, academic shunning, ridicule, or death – are depicted as heretics and traitors to the faith. History is told to discourage us from finding affinity with them”

Now to be fair this isn’t a Christian thing, it a human thing.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to talk about today: Heretics!

Along with being Trinity Sunday thanks to our good friends in Australia it is also “All Heretics Day”.

Now it may not be initially recognized but Nicodemus from our story today was a heretic. He may not have been an out in public kind of heretic but the faith he held in his heart would have branded him a heretic immediately if the other Pharisee leaders knew. He did indeed feel that Jesus was the Christ, the foretold messiah to come and save the Jewish people from oppression forever. This is why he was out slinking around in the dark hiding in the shadows. He wanted to keep his faith under cover.

In fact it was not until 80ce that the Sanhedrin officially made it unlawful to state that Jesus was the messiah, punishable by expulsion from the Synagogue. Although ole Nic knew it would not bode well for him to completely come out about who he was.

I say completely because we have two other accounts of Nicodemus in John’s gospel both of which seem to show were his heart was at. He shows up as the Jewish leaders are plotting his assassination pleading that he deserves a “fair” trial. He again shows up with traditional burial spices after Jesus is removed from the cross (which honestly kind of shows he didn’t really understand what Jesus had been saying.)

Nicodemus was a man of clout among his people. He was expected to hold an orthodox view on correct belief. Jesus was not part of the correct belief for his community. Jesus and all who put their faith in him were deemed heretics.

But Nic was a seeker. He was not satisfied with “because” as an answer. He wanted to ask why even after people were tired of hearing it.

As we know however if you challenge the status quo you are bound to be labeled a heretic.

As I said “All Heretics Day” comes from the land down under. A place the English developed to send heretics of all sorts be it political, social, and yes even religious. It’s no wonder that the Australian church today is producing some of the most forward thinking outside the box theologian’s the world has ever known. Many of these heretics where sent there for seeking more than truth, just like Nicodemus. They went against the winners and blazed a whole new path.

One of the core problems with these heretics was that they suggested an open understanding of God’s desire for community. Instead of a world where God favors the few and condemns the many, they had the gall to suggest that God’s love was available to all of creation. The challenged the idea that humanity at its root is depraved and w/o help aside from a bloody understanding of atonement. The advocated for a compassionate humanity that desires to seek out good for one another, even if they need some help getting it right sometimes. These people favored a critical approach to religion that appreciates reason and individual thought.

Which brings us back to the Trinity. Our passage today points out to us that belief is not about our knowledge. It’s not about signing on the dotted line agreeing to a policy. It is about our faith that we experience being known and loved by a God who draws us into a mystery that is beyond our wisdom or understanding (just like this table that seems to make no sense yet pulls us in).

This passage reminds us that when we think we think we know who Jesus is, when we believe we have captured the Jennie in the bottle, that is precisely when it will all be turned upside down, like our buddy Nic the heretic. Our certainty is tossed is tossed into the shadows and we experience a rebirth into the light that is not about knowing but blows us on the wind with no idea where it’s going.

That wind blowing our perceived notions and tightly wound ideas open to the possibility of a new life.

Marjorie Suchocki, professor emeriti of Claremont School of Theology shared this idea about the Trinity in a blog past some time ago:

“despite (its) divisive history, the doctrine of the Trinity is more important today than ever, and for two very practical reasons: the first is that the doctrine can keep us from the idolatry of thinking God is just a human being, only bigger and better than the rest of us.  The second is that the doctrine tells us that the very deepest form of unity is one that includes irreducible diversity

Are we attuned to the voice of the Triune God? Do we allow it to direct us in new ways bring about diversity that was inconceivable just a short time ago? Do we become church in the world to those that have been excluded and pushed to the margins? Or are we a little afraid of being labeled a Heretic?

So now what?

As another UNCO has come to an end I find myself in a similar position again. I’m dreaming of what can be. The ideas talked about and the great people associated with them was again phenomenal. In fact I am always amazed by the quality of the minds that are drawn to a seemingly dying faith tradition. I, like many who were in attendance, fear for what we are to do with ourselves as we see fewer and fewer ministry jobs that can pay enough to dedicate the time and energy we all wish to give to them. How can you honestly give the care and attention deserved to careing for people when you know your shift at Starbucks is about to begin? What are those who are in jobs that do pay enough to do when the writing is on the wall that this gravy train is pulling into the station? Are they supposed to give time to retraining at the expense of those who are paying for you to be available for the church?
Well again as usual UNCO challenged us to get busy! Carol Howard-Merrit went so far as to make permission slips for us. (Mine was free parking.) We both individually and as a community of Christ followers need to stop talking about how hard it’s going to be and start doing it. I’m so sick of hearing how BIG this ship is and how long it’s going to take to turn it. We’ve been so busy saying this that now is to late to worry about turning and time to man the lifeboats.
I plan to enlist my first career in the corporate world to help others take their ideas from just that to business plans and strategies. I want to work with others to make venture capital a model for fundraising. If the stinking political system can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single night with the promise of changing your life for the better shouldn’t an organization that has been doing it for 2000 years be able garner some success asset it? (with at least no more misleading crooks than politics which is successful at it!).
So while I too have many good ideas for ministry I’m going to start by looking for ways to help many others ideas happen, or at least some of them 🙂
Contact me if you think I can help. Contact me if you are somebody that can help me get my venture capital ministry fund going too. It’s going to take getting connected as one people of God if any of this will happen.
Once again UNCO team thanks for getting the creative jucies flowing now get busy!

Hands On

And a leper came up to Jesus, kneeling and imploring him. If you are willing, you can cleanse me.”
Feeling a visceral emotion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying: “I am willing. Be cleansed.”
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

In the ancient land of Israel, as in some lands today, there is no group that was more outcaste than the lepers. In Jesus’ day there was no treatment. They lived in dispirited, outcast bands, begging at a distance for food to be left out for them.

Whenever others came near, lepers were compelled to wail: “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn them off. It is hard to imagine a more miserable and hopeless group of outcastes. They were the living who were treated as if dead. In that sense they were the living dead.

To make matters worse, they were commonly reckoned to be justly suffering for their sins. Leprosy was thought to be caused by evil, a disease from hell. The righteous people, who were lucky enough to be healthy, despised the unhealthy as sinners getting their just reward. Lepers were seen as sinners who were abandoned by God to the powers of corruption.

ENTER JESUS OF NAZARETH
Enter the Man from Nazareth. Here was a Person who refused to allow his behavior to be distorted by fear and superstition.
When one leper, made bold by the compassion he had witnessed from afar, dared to come up to Jesus, kneel and beg for help, Jesus was there for him. He did not step back with disgust, but stepped forward and did an amazing thing. “Jesus stretched out his hands and touched him.”

Yes, Jesus actually touched the unclean creature. Touched the fellow with the contagious disease. Touched the untouchable.
Can we even begin to comprehend what it meant for the unclean to be touched by a clean man? To be treated as something worthwhile? To be accepted in spite of the loathsome disease? To receive the touch of this Jesus in whom God was gloriously at work?

I doubt whether most of us, who are used to sharing kisses and hugs, or at least exchanging a friendly handshake, can appreciate the awesome power of that moment when Jesus placed his hands on the leper. The healing that happened was not only physical but also social and spiritual. The leper’s very humanity was being restored.

Jesus confirmed this total restoration by sending the ex-leper
off to fulfill the social and religious obligations. “Go and show yourself to a priest, make the offerings commanded by Moses, that the people may witness the proof of your healing.”

TODAY’S OUTCASTES
 This story should speak powerfully to all those who today are deprived of love and respect. Those who are denied loving human touch. Or those who so despise themselves that they deny themselves the blessing of human touch.

In the film, In the Gloaming, directed by the late Christopher Reeve, a young man suffering from Aids comes back home to die. His mother gladly welcomes him, and his father tries to do so, though very awkwardly. But touch is not happening. The employed nurse, watching the mother hovering over her sleeping son, encourages her to touch him: “It’s okay. You can touch him.” At first she strokes his hair while he sleeps, then graduates to greater physical care for her son. At the end he is able to die with his head on her shoulder. But the father never gets over his inhibitions; he never touches his dying son.
This moving film underscores the way we find it hard, in certain circumstances, to lovingly touch even those of our own household.

THE UNTOCUABALES IN OUR COMMUNITY?
Which causes me to ask the question, who are today‘s untouchables?
I find it a bit disheartening the relative idleness of the church regarding the victims of aids. Are these the modern equivalent of the lepers of Jesus’ day? Do we covertly believe that AIDS is the evil disease visited on those who are worse sinners than we are?

What about illegal immigrants? That stream of people fleeing from poverty and who risk everything to hopefully make it to American soil? Are they numbered among the untouchables? 
As Christian people what should are response be to these people seeking a better life?

A similar readiness to consign some groups of people to the ranks of the untouchables pertains to that of drug addicts. Are drug addicts worth our attention? Or are they like lepers in Jesus’ day, better kept out of sight and ignored? Think of the reaction when a church proposes to establish a clean needle exchange.

These programs don’t think they will cure any addict but that maybe they can keep them alive long enough to find their way to a clean life. The typical response seems to be it is better that drug addicts should die than the church be seen to be compromised.

Some would go further. I once heard it suggested that it would be better to round up all the addicts and have them medically executed. “No drug addicts, no sub-culture to tempt new groups of young people into the degradation.” 
No addicts, no drug dealers. Swiftly clean our streets of the problem once and for all.

 In some ways, that man’s “solution” was at least more honest than those who simply decide to ignore the issue.  Looking the other way, keeping Christians hands clean, seems to be a denial of the way of Christ.

Gustavo Gutiérrez is commonly regarded as the founder of liberation Theology. Basically he says if you want to know where God is you will find God at work among the lowliest of the low, with the outcastes of society. Wanting to help with hands-on. The quintessential Christ is there for those who need him most.

Among the rules John Wesley laid down for those who joined his Methodist Society, was this one. “Go not to those who need you, but to those who need you most.”

Here is the critical situation: who among us really wants to reach out their hand with compassion?

 Want to? Until we really want to, nothing will ever happen.

See the scene once more: The leper, kneeling in front of Jesus: “If you are willing, you can cleanse me.” & Jesus, reaching out his hand and touching him: “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

This is the crux of the situation the Church finds itself in. We have become a society that is so concerned with our own survival that we struggle to reach out and touch. As Bishop Mike Rinehart of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod says, “The turnaround of the mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church, as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.”

We should be moved, at a visceral level, like Jesus was, to
touch. To touch, the untouchable. To touch, the outsider. To touch, with no regard for ourselves.

This passage is core to who we are called to be as the Church. Jesus was not concerned with just the Jewish folks of his day. He was filled with compassion for all people. He ate dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors. He stood up for adulterers. He touched leapers.

Bishop Rinehart concludes his article, which I will make available, with these words: When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life.

Off to the Rodeo!

I just spent the last week as the rodeo chaplain at the “Rooftop Rodeo” the best “small” rodeo in America 5 of the last 9 years. Now I assume you are thinking what I was doing taking part in such an event. But I want to tell you it was an experience not to be missed.
For the most part my role was to hang out with the “rough stock” cowboys. These are the guys who ride the bucking Broncs and the bulls. I imagine that most of us imagine these guys to be tough ass kicking Son’s with maybe a couple cards missing from the deck. What I discovered was that they may not have much fear strapping themselves to these huge animals and attempting to ride them for 8 seconds but they are some of the best people I’ve met in a long time.
I spent time listening to their stories, learning about their life so far. (I would estimate the average age to be in the mid 20’s). What I expected to hear was not what I learned.
They wanted to tell me who they were and about their love or rodeo. They wanted to tell me they loved life living moment to moment. They wanted to tell me about passion for life. They were not some stereo typical hick (although I can’t say the same about the rodeo announcer). These young men may have had a strange passion but they were anything but strange. I have not be called sir so many times in my life and looked straight in the eye and experienced a heartfelt thank you to me for listening to them.
On the first night of the rodeo the unexpected happened. A bull landed funny shattering his leg. The bull was unable to bear any weight on this leg and was going to have to be destroyed. I would have assumed everybody would be indifferent to this but I first had to console a cowboy upset for being at the reigns of this animal and then work with the animals’ owner to assure the animal was as comfortable as he could be getting him back to be with the bulls he knew someone well. They knew the animal would have to be destroyed but they first wanted to make sure he was comfortable and with the other animals he knew.
I was not sure at first how to process this entire time but in retrospect I feel the people around the bull truly wanted the best for him. They were saddened by the loss of this athlete, as they referred to him. They did not see it as just some animal but mourned his loss.
What I learned in this week again is that just because people seek out their passion in different ways, who am, I to judge before I truly spend some time in their shoes, or cowboy boots as the case may be!
I guess I need to chalk this up to another lesson in humility in my experience with life.

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Are we there yet?