When Pastors Lament

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 8.58.26 PM

Over the last few months I’ve had the privilege of participating in a cohort of early career pastors from around the country.  Every quarter we gather for a couple days to retreat and provide space for spiritual formation as ministry colleagues.  In between our retreats we meet online and engage in spiritual writing/reflection together.  Sharing this season of life with other young pastors has been a transformational gift in so many ways.  I’m deeply grateful to have been accepted into the cohort, and for the people who lead us in such a special journey.

On our most recent retreat we convened in Austin, Texas at a special place called Community First Village which provides long term housing for the chronically homeless.  Though not a traditional retreat center, the atmosphere at the village was as sacred as any monastery.

The focus of our time together was on forgiveness and reconciliation.  As we heard about the story of Austin’s past and present, specifically the affects of gentrification and racism, we reflected on our world and the role the church has played (or not played) in both combating and perpetuating oppression.  On our final night, before receiving the Eucharist as a cohort, we broke up into smaller groups to process and write a lament.

Below are prayers written by a small group of young pastors from across the country.  Laying bear our grief and concerns before God in the form of a lament is a deeply Biblical practice that the American church often neglects, but given the state of our world, is something I’m convinced we need more of.   The process allows us to acknowledge the depth of suffering facing our world without a need for resolution or solutions, but just to mourn.  From there we look to the wounds of our Savior which offer us God’s presence and solidarity in the midst of our brokenness, and we trust in the God who with us.

“We lament that there are American churches that think the work of racial reconciliation is optional

We lament that pastors are reticent to bring up these issues due to fear of losing members or money

We lament our blindness to the ways we are racist and the ways we are complicit in racism

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we choose comfort over sacrifice and privilege over justice or equity

We lament that sometimes we are for justice in appearance only

We lament that we only care about the ‘en vogue’ justice issue of the week and then it is quickly forgotten

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that our leaders of faith have aligned themselves with political power over the way of Jesus

We lament accepting theology that has propped up racism by promoting a White Jesus

We lament that we have a skewed understanding of our history

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that the voice of women has not been heard on an equal basis in the church, ever

We lament the fact that this is also true for the Black voice, the Hispanic voice, and any other marginalized people group

We lament that so many don’t want to take the next step, no matter the starting point

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that in church contexts women are not given the benefit of the doubt

We lament that in church contexts, the victim isn’t supported while the person in power is

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that our schools are becoming more segregated

We lament that the history of the private Christian school movement is partially racially motivated

We lament that our denominations have a racialized history

We lament that the history of the global church is steeped in partnership with racism and slavery

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament our own personal prejudice that has taken root because of what we have witnessed in the church

We lament that we have lost the ability or desire to have conversations with friends and family that have supported leaders we disagree with

We lament the difficulty of having real conversation with sisters and brothers in Christ without discord

We lament that we have vilified the person on the other side of the argument

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we don’t care as much as we should about reconciliation

We lament our apathy concerning reconciliation

We lament that the White culture has not truly repented and sought biblical forgiveness

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

We lament that we work in silos and ignore our neighbors in need

We lament that we work in silos and criticize the ‘other.’

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”

*Written by Diane’s small group as part of the the 2017-2018 Fuller/Lilly Early Career Pastors Spiritual Formation Cohort

Of Money & Church: Unfiltered thoughts/confessions from after a budget meeting

church-money

Money is one of those topics that is really complicated in general, but even more so when brought up within a faith community.

Churches have messed this one up so bad that wars have been fought and countless people have lost their faith.   Things like the prosperity gospel are a part of that and not only poison our credibility, but fundamentally go against the teachings of most religious traditions.  When talking about finances at church, there are landmines everywhere-  often due to things like greed, dishonesty, or wrecklessness creeping into church leadership.

On the other hand, so much good can come when churches leverage their resources to build community, care for the poor, and seek justice.  In fact, according to a recent USA today article, churches often outperform governments, foundations, and NGOs when it comes to benevolence, philanthropy, and relief efforts, “about 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based”. I’ve seen this first hand as faith-full people I know have worked to end human trafficking, shelter the homeless, offer counseling to the broken, provide for refugees, and more.

Over the years I’ve become convinced that generosity, more specifically sacrificial generosity, is a good thing for the human soul.  Our relationship to money cuts down deep into our being and can reveal where our heart is, and often it’s not where we say it is.  If we use finances as a gauge of our heart, than our lives mostly orbit around ourselves, our fear of scarcity, and things like entertainment and eating out, not justice, mercy, and compassion.

I’ve also become aware that the value of church and its potential impact is tied to finances in some way.  In an ideal world everything would be free and God would just deposit monthly resources into our bank accounts, but that’s not the world we live in.   It turns out we have choices when it comes to what we do with the time, talent, and treasure that passes through our control during our limited moments on earth.

And that brings me to last week when our scrappy little church’s finance team met to talk through our budget for next year.  As we looked at our shoe-string budget I was  inspired by the fact that we give a quarter of our Sunday offerings away each month to an outside cause and can still mostly pay our own bills, but also filled with tension around this subject.  I’m very much still learning how to talk about money in a way that both honors the pain and mistrust that many feel when faith communities bring it up, but also acknowledges the reality that being a part of church should not be a consumer experience, but something that requires the sacrificial generosity (not only financial) of us all.

So here are some of my unfiltered thoughts that were swirling around my heart as we talked money.  I share these as both a confession to things I’m working on like pride, judgment, entitlement, and lack of faith, and also as an honest window into the practical realities of organizing a sustainable faith community.

“how do we talk about $ and not be weird?”

“my colleagues make more than me”

“what’s a retirement plan?”

“kingdom benefits are great but real benefits would be nice someday…”

“we seriously do so much good out of so little money, it’s insane”

“why is the Bay so f-ing expensive?”

“it’d be nice to work at a rich church”

“oh wait, we’re a rich church by many standards”

“if only people gave like they do for gyms, yoga, tv subscription, eating out…”

“seriously though it seems like people feel entitled to church being free”

“but if it wasn’t for the generosity of some people, none of this would have been possible”

“I wish we could afford childcare or a kids ministry or a children’s director”

“maybe that whole tithing thing is a good idea..  i dunno”

“actually I’ve heard some awful talks on tithing and seen it manipulated in the worst ways, I’m NEVER doing that”

“why did I decide to weddings, funerals, premarital for free again?”

“if we had a little bit more money we would seriously start the revolution, Kanye, could you tweet Zuckerberg for us and set up a meeting?”

“I’m so glad we don’t spend $ on stupid shit like fog machines and stage lighting or billboard advertisements”

“it’d be great to have our own space some day”

“I hope we never have a space that we have to manage some day”

“why doesn’t people’s giving match their belief in the power of this community?”

“money sucks”

“I suck at this”

“I’m probably the entitled and privileged one”

“what do we do if people stop giving?”

“I wonder what it’s like to have a real job?”

“I probably couldn’t do anything else…”

“it’s amazing that I get paid for this.”

“we actually have it pretty good if you think about it”

“thank god for our finance team, they are way smarter than I am”

“at the end of the day we’ll be OK, God has always provided, always, and it’s the privilege of my life to be a part of this community”

.

.

.

Letters to My Son: Forests & Shoulders

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 11.24.38 AM
Dear Elliott,

You’re so tiny still.  You’ve been packing on the pounds in these first few weeks, but I can still pick you up and sway you around effortlessly.  Our afternoon dance parties have kind of become a thing.  I absolutely love it when I place you on my shoulder to burp you and your cheek touches my face.  I know mine must feel rough and whisker-y, but yours feels so soft and warm to my skin.  I’m pretty sure my brain instantly releases some sort of happy chemical each time this happens becasue your little head next to mine fills me with pure joy.

As I hold your miniature body up, I’m reminded that in so many ways we are all held up by others.  The family and home that you were born into has been cultivated by your mother and I and your mother and I are the products of those who did the same for us.  We all stand on the shoulders of those who’ve come before us.

In your family tree are many interesting stories and people.  The DNA that you carry in each atom of your being represents a limb that stems from a branch which comes from a limb, which connects to another branch, and still yet another.  Though the path of your newly sprouted life will certainly be its own unique extension of our tree, it will still always have come from ours.

This tree of life, within which you will always and forever have a home, is teaming with life and complexity.  And we’re a part of a forest that stretches as far as our eyes can behold.  If we were to read the tree-rings that tell the story of those who’s shoulders we stand on it would tell of people just like you, created in the image of Divine love.

You’ve got ancestors who fought in wars and others who nursed wounds and prescribed medicine.  There are arms dealers, bootleggers, ocean-crossers, head-hunters, para-troopers, car-sellers, church-starters, emergency room nurses, mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, daughters, and sons.  You are them and they are you.   Wars, medicine, and everything in between.

Your mom and I hope you pick up the best of who we are.  Already, I think you’ve got some of your mothers looks, which is a good thing, trust me.

At some point you’ll start to see that though your parents love you unconditionally, they are not perfect.  Folks who study child development tell us this starts to happen at some point near you teenage years.  Whenever it happens for you, just know that it’s as normal as taxes and traffic.

You see my son, in this life are some of the most incredible people who bring the most incredible goodness to those around them- but there is no one perfect.  All of us, including you, will make mistakes and let others down.  This is humanity’s legacy.

Here is what I want to communicate to you about the shoulders we stand on and the forest that nourishes us:

As you look into the past and begin to understand where you come from, you’ll surely notice many imperfections and shortcomings.  There are the big things like environmental destruction and racial oppression, and there are also the more specific things like the particular flaws of your mother and I.  In the midst of that all, I hope you know that the beauty outshines the brokenness.

I hope that you can be the kind of person who does not get discouraged by all that’s wrong with the world and those who came before you, but that you will take the baton of history’s grand march and keep moving things forward in a way that brings an increasing amount of equity, goodness, justice, and love into the world.

Son, it won’t be long before it’s your shoulders that will carry the weight of others, and as your Father who loves you more than you’ll ever know, my ultimate hope is that you would come to know that underneath all that holds us up is a Love who cradles all of it- both our beauty and brokenness.

Anyways, those are some thoughts that I had as you rested on my shoulders the other day.

Love you buddy,

Dad

 

 

The Pitfall of Novelty and the Pursuit of The New

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 4.25.36 PM

Over the years I think we’ve all become a little numb to how dependent we are on new experiences, especially folks my age-ish and younger.

Think about it:
How long have you held your current job?
When was the last time you switched a connection to a community?
When was the last time you stuck with something longer than a few years?
How often do you try new things?
How frequently do you dream about changing things in your life?

Every year, month, and day there are new products for us to consume, new items to taste, and new places to travel.  We map out our calendar and fill it with new destinations and new experiences. When Alie and I want to go out for dinner we’re often drawn to something new and different.  When a new show that I follow gets released, I usually watch it within a few days.  While there is nothing wrong with new things and while I’ve got as much wanderlust as anyone, I think there is a danger when our constant attraction to novelty bleeds into the deeper parts of our being.

In my line of work I interact with people at various stages of life and it seems that this cultural force has affected most of us beyond products, podcasts, and places to eat- I think our magnetic movement towards novelty has changed how we do relationship with people.

The story plays out over and over.  We open a new door in our lives, excited about a new job, a new romantic interest, or a new community.   Then the high wears off and we become restless.  As the buzz of newness fades, other things begin to surface and we start to notice the effort required to remain consistent, the flaws of this new thing or place, and our own insecurities or struggles.

Instead of using this moment as a chance to learn, grow, and face these more challenging dimensions, we pull the shoot and peace out.  We bounce to the next new experience, selfie-worthy location, romantic interest, or church community and are pleasantly surprised by the chemical buzz of novelty that we find there again.  It fills the hole and covers up some of what’s underneath.

See, I’m beginning to think that while novelty has it’s place, our pursuit of its intoxicating force keeps us from what we are really longing for.  What is it that we’re longing for underneath it all?

At least in part: Intimacy, connection, and belonging.

That’s what my limited but fruitful years working with people on a “soul” level has pointed me to.  We’re all aching to know and to be known, to love and be loved, and to find home.  Marketers and software engineers are experts at hot-wiring this human longing and sucking us into an endless cycle of novelty.   They make the best, most polished, sexy menus but leave us never actually enjoying food that nourishes.  And as our tolerance increases, our pursuit is fueled by an abundance of opportunities to consume new things.  Meanwhile our hunger pangs simultaneously increase and are also buried further down in our being.

I’m convinced that we long for community and intimacy at the deepest levels, but we’re held captive by these cultural forces.   I can’t tell you how many folks have come to our church (after stints at other churches), super excited at first, but once the honey moon wears off, end up drifting to the next new thing and then repeat the cycle.  I’ve seen it over in over in the way people do friendships, careers, and romance.  To combat our addiction to novelty requires intentionality and effort. We’ve got to call it out and work towards change.

See, there is nothing efficient about intimacy.

In many ways it’s an antonym to the word novelty.

It happens after the honeymoon wears off and we let our guard down.  It happens when we stick with something long enough to let others see our flaws and as we begin to notice those of others.  It’s in those moments that we may want to run for the door, but if we catch this impulse, we should try our best to counter-culturally override it.  On the other side of the novelty buzz is a slow and steady depth and richness.  It takes time, effort, and faithfulness.  It requires us to invest in these relationships in a way that cultivates the soil of being known- warts and all.  Though it’s not always sexy or easy, my experience tells me that this is what we truly desire.

If things rings true for you in some way, find some relationships that give you life and stick with them.  They will surely get boring and stale at some point, but keep going.  Years later you’ll see the slow and steady fruit begin to bear in your life.  Decades after that an emerging sense of connection and belonging may surface in your soul, and you wouldn’t want to trade it for anything.

.

.

.

>

Reptiles & Repentance

th

When I was tween I suckered my parents into letting me get a lizard terrarium, and in my own bed room even!  The whole thing was sort of a mess.  Each week I’d get mom or dad to take me down to the local pet store so that I could purchase a plastic bag of crickets, which were what my Green Anole or Brown Skink would eat.  They’d be stored in a container next to the reptile tank and chirp all night.  Some would inevitably escape their insect death-row and be discovered later around the house.   When feeding time came my prepubescent eyes would would widen as I watched nature do its thing and my pets would transform from harmless creatures into ferocious dinosaur descendants, consuming those squeaking little protein-nuggets as I looked on in delight.

Though it was a fun aspect of my youth, I wasn’t a very good lizard keeper.  The cage would often go weeks without being cleaned, something that should have been done consistently and repeatability, which would in turn create a not so subtle smell-region of our house.  One of the reasons most reptile terrariums need to be cleaned often is because the tenants do this thing called moulting.  Basically moulting is when the animal sheds its skin and emerges fresh and new.  In my lizard tanks, the shed skin would be left sitting around way too long.   I still remember avoiding my responsibility to clean out the tank and reset the environment, which was to the detriment of both my pets and my family.

So what does that all have to do with the second part of this post’s title? With repentance?

The easy metaphor is that like reptiles shed their skin and are made new every so often, we need to shed our “skin”, the parts of our being that hold us back or don’t reflect the God of love.

That’s a great image.

But in this illustration the church isn’t the reptile, but the reptile keeper.

Just like I was irresponsible when it came to what maintaining the life of those creatures took, I think the church is similarly guilty.

We enjoy the show of church, the way it makes us feel, the shallow and entertaining elements.  We like to watch from the sidelines as both spectators and critics, but when it comes to actually cleaning out the whole tank, we’re nowhere to be found.  Meanwhile things are literally rotting.

That’s the way the church-landscape often feels to me.  I read yesterday that white evangelical support of President Trump is at an all time high, even though the his words and actions couldn’t be more antithetical to the gospel of Jesus.  Though some of us are deeply engaged in the hard work of community, compassion, justice, and being people of good news,  most of us aren’t.  Sure we notice the smells and sounds that tell us change is needed, but we’re not very comfortable getting messy to the detriment of ourselves and our message.  My experience is that because of our neglect and apathy, we don’t smell that great to those around us.

I think there are many, many elements of our faith ecosystems that need to be cleaned out.  We’ve sold out to marketing and flashiness.  We’ve largely worked in silos building our own brands.  We’ve turned the grace of Jesus into an us-or-them ultimatum, leaving entire communities who don’t meet our standards on the outside.  We’ve wed ourselves to corrupt politicians.  We’ve neglected the poor.  We’ve worshiped at the idol of nationalism, when we should be people of a backwards kingdom.  We’ve lost our first love.  Meanwhile things are literally rotting.

Thankfully, there is this thing called repentance.  It’s one of those things Jesus preached often.  It means to reverse direction- to acknowledge our need for change, and turn.  It means that we take the time to clean out our tanks, something that we must continue to do over and over, and in the process we’re transformed into something completely new.

There are a myriad of examples of this sort of change in the gospels.  One example is of Zacheus, a tax collector who made loads of money fleecing the people of Jesus’ homeland.  In one encounter with Jesus he went from working for the occupying empire of Rome, to following a radical religious leader from the sticks.  He even gave back all the wealth he had accumulated and then some.

My prayer is that our churches would become known not for the shows or products that we offer, but for this very process.  That we would be communities of repentance, where we consistently confess our shortcomings and do the work of change.  It can happen, I’ve seen it.  Maybe then we wouldn’t smell as bad.


Confession of Sin

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name.

Amen.

 

Letters to My Son: Ninjas & Imago Dei

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 12.59.45 PM

Elliott,

I’ve been kicking around different subjects for this letter for a few days.  There are so many things to write to you about, and since this is my third message, I feel like it has to carry some significance.  Do I start with the big stuff?  Do I wax poetic about the mysteries of the soul or the universe?  Should I settle for you once and for all why Ninjas are better than Pirates?

I guess those questions tap into one of the emotions we have about you at the moment.  Tomorrow marks your third week amongst us air breathers and there is so much still ahead.  So far our time together has consisted mostly of diapers, nursing, sleeping, not sleeping, and lots holding you, rocking in our arms- that’s my favorite.  Oh, and we did take you to your first A’s Opening Day on your two week birthday.  They won in a walk off.  Other than that it’s been mostly a lot of hanging around the house.  In the coming months, years, and decades we’ll get to explore life’s vastness and so I guess I should do my best to enjoy the simplicity of this moment.

Hearing your tiny vocal chords chirp as you guzzle milk, feeling the softness of our skin on mine (there aren’t really words to describe how soft your skin in),  and watching your fresh blue eyes open for those few moments during the day- those gifts are more than enough for now.

Life really is precious my son.  Every breath that fills your newly exposed lungs is a gift to be received.  The presence of beauty and goodness are with us always, if we notice it.  Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and miss what’s in front of us.  For now, you are what’s in front of us.  And bundled amidst your swaddling cloths is a heart, a soul, and a mind that holds all of life’s mysteries in one elegantly ordained body.

You my son are beauty, curiosity, miracle, joy, and wonder.  Before anything else, you are a reflection of all of that is sacred.  Within your being is a capacity for what I’ve come to believe is truth itself: love.  This is who you are,  created in the image of the Divine, the Imago Dei.  All the rest of us too.

There will be many contrasting messages sent your way in the future, and many dividing forces that will do their best to quench this flame, but I want you to know that we will always see this in you.  You will always be a reminder of the grace that is life and our hope in love’s source and home.   As we enjoy this season of our lives with you, this is what we behold.

Next time I’ll probably share some really great fatherly wisdom about life and faith, but for now I think I’ll go back to you.

Love,

Your Dad

Letters to My Son: Surprise!

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 1.04.47 PM

Elliott Matthew Scott, Born March 15th 2018

Dear Son,

The day you were born the newspaper headline in the East Bay Times boldly read in all caps, “CAN’T HOLD US BACK!”.  Those words, describing a current political movement led by young people, poignantly framed your arrival into the umbilically detached world, as you entered center stage 5 weeks before your show was set to begin.   I had every intention of writing a series of messages to you that would have been nicely wrapped up before you came, sort of like the way you are currently swaddled in a blanket, but life does life stuff.

It’s hard to find words that can possibly capture the magic, mystery, and miracle that you, your mom, and I have lived these last few days.  Where can I even begin?!

First of all, your mother is amazing.  Anyone who ever tells you that women are not as strong as men has likely never spent any time in Labor and Delivery.

Her water broke at about 10:30 pm on Wednesday March 14th.  We had house-guests that night and we were so not ready.  After calling the hospital to check in about her symptoms, we quickly headed over filled with anxious anticipation.  Over the previous few weeks and months we talked constantly about meeting you.  Once we arrived and checked into the room, the room that would be the place of your first breath and touch, the nurse told us that you were coming.

The human body is a mystery.  I’m told we still don’t know what makes a woman go into labor or what makes her water break.  Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was the Mexican food she had for dinner, or maybe it was something more divinely orchestrated.

One of the many overwhelming experiences of the next 12 hours of labor was watching your mother beam with expectant fear and joy, even in the midst of tremendous pain.  As the contractions swelled like a rising tide, there was a palpable sense in the room that something immense, life-changing, and sacred was near.  There was also a sober awareness of life’s precious fragility as one drop in blood pressure or shift in heart rate could turn the tide completely.  Those moments were unlike anything else I’ve experienced.

Before the final push came, our hearts were beyond overwhelmed as we were about to encounter the emergence of life itself.  It was then that your mom asked if we could pray.  We asked for God’s protection and strength and offered our thanks for the unspeakable privilege of being present to all that swirled around us at that moment. There was energy in the room and our job was to let go. We cried and kissed, completely carried by the currents of labor.

She pushed in increments of ten.  We counted each number off, slowly growing louder and louder as the breaching tides of contractions rose higher and higher.  From somewhere deep inside her being, your mother pulled from the primal strength of creation and you began to emerge like the glimmers of first light.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.  GOOD! BREATHE!  YOU GOT THIS, PUSH AGAIN! ONE, TWO, THREE….”

Finally, your head plunged into the atmosphere.  Then your blue and pink body.

Our Doctor immediately carried you to your mothers chest and I wept tears of total and uncontrollable joy.  You cried as you breathed air. We kissed your soaking head.  It was beyond overwhelming.  In my life I’ve experienced a few moments of joy and transcendence, but nothing quite like the first time we met you.  It was pure, vulnerable communion.  Ecstatic and elated.  Holy and home.  It was a glimpse of God.

You Elliott are a glimpse of God.

As family and friends showered us with their company and their gifts over the next couple days, we soon took you back to our home, though it came after some time in the NICU since you came so early.   We couldn’t be happier having you here.  Watching you receive life and sustenance from your mothers body is amazing.  Holding you on my bare chest as you breath and nap is so special.  Having to get up every few hours in the night to make sure you get fed isn’t so bad, though it’s a lot more work for your mom (be sure to thank her one day).

Yesterday I went on a jog and was brought to tears as I thought about how blessed we are to have you.  I’m sure folks who saw me must have been confused as I cry-jogged around our neighborhood.

Son, I want you to know that you are a gift to us.  We are so in love with you.  I hope and pray that you hold that deep inside of you for the rest of your life.  And I hope you know God’s love.  It’s really hard to explain it, but it’s the one that all other loves reflect in some way.  It’s the one that filled the room as your mother held you for the first time.  It’s the one that brought me to tears yesterday.   And it’s the one that I see in your eyes.

Elliott, we can’t wait to learn that love together from here on out.  There is so much to explore and experience and encounter my son!  Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 1.06.31 PM

.

.

.