Dear Pastor #2: a liturgy (written on a phone, on a plane)

Pastor,

You may say it well but it’s not enough

This pain won’t let me hear

It’s too much and it’s too little, no matter how sincerely you try

You’ve un-surfaced these scars yet again and their depth drowns out all else

You missed the mark and your words fall short of being a balm that heals

You’re all wrong, just by default, your skin, your voice, your body

You are the problem that triggers these wounds so deep, and there’s nothing you can do

That Sunday I entered the sanctuary, it entered me, and this sacred mess spun around

Communication in words and symbols will always fail

Amplified thoughts both dilute and stab all we’ve carried here

Is there even a way to speak a truth that won’t offend and stir?

I don’t know

So in the mean time I’ll assume the worst and project my past, and make you the caricature I’ve been told you are

I’ll conclude you’re wrong and declare your shame without inquiring of your own pain

It’s not valid anyway

Whether you already know what I’m trying to say or you actually said what I claim you didn’t, isn’t something I care about

Because what I need is beyond all that, an impossible ask that I still expect

I need you to hold all my burdens because if you don’t, who will?

I need you to say what I want you to, and afterwards I need you to be ok with me saying you didn’t or you did it wrong

Cause I’m lost and tumbling and tossing in this world of suffering

The currents so strong you’re sure to drown no matter how well trained your strokes

So what’s the point? Why do you try? What were you hoping to do?

———

Child,

I’m sorry, and I love you, and your scars are beautiful here.

I can’t make it better and I’ll surely mess it up, but I hope there is something more

I hope what’s stirred is exposed for love and the divine will find you there

I pray to God that I don’t get in the way and that you’ll encounter the holy still

That all I say and all I am may only serve as a rope of life

Climb, push, throw, and forget as long as you make it to the shores

——-

All,

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference

A Prayer of Gratitude

The below prayer is from my final retreat with a cohort of early career pastors from around the country that I was privileged to be a part of.  For the past year we’ve gathered together quarterly to share lives, be encouraged, and practice spiritual formation. As we closed our time together were asked to write a prayer/psalm of gratitude which we would each read aloud around a snowy campfire at Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado.  It was a beautiful and memorable moment.   For me, my prayer of gratitude includes the four things I’m most thankful for at this point in my journey: our new child, my wife, our church, and the cohort itself.

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“To the one who has given us everything we can behold through, from, in and for love.

We say thanks in words that go beyond language

Thank you for the gift of flesh from my flesh, for his transcendent smile, sheer ecstasy and joy. I do not deserve to bear witness to such heart melting, pleasure giving, heaven pointing love.

Thank you for the grace of my wife. For her strength, peace, constant friendship and the endless ways life is more full because of her.

Thank you for the miracle of a church that came out of our dreams, where the margins are embraced and the centers are challenged both into deeper, condition-less love. Where you call our messes beautiful, sacred, and holy.

For the unreal, unearned opportunity of this ministry cohort. For the gift of being served, loved, seen, believed in, inspired, refreshed, admired, challenged, and nurtured by you through these co-laborors

For these gifts, this bounty and for all those things not mentioned we give thanks and say, praise god from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above the heavenly hosts.”

Amen amen amen.”

It’s all ego

It’s all ego
All of it
All of our worthiness projects
Every single one of them

Each post, provocation, and premiere
Hanging there like stars
Who’s light we long to shine on us
Validating our being

The framed sunsets and smiles
The lighting and lines
Comments and likes
Are all impotent attempts at satiating our souls

I’ve been doing it this whole time
I’ve given decades of my life to it
Forging a church Ex Nhilo
So much sleeplessness, sweat, and stress went into it

Yes, it is beautiful
But it’s also bullshit

Today I’ve got to make words appear on a screen
Words that will rally the troops once more
And convince us yet again that it’s all worth it

But is it?
Worth it?

Or is it all a reflection of my sickness?
That I want to feel valued
That I want to be seen
That I want to be better than them
And that I want to be loved

What is it that keeps us going each day?
What is it that makes a man do anything other than hold his beloved
And give it all away building something to prove that he was there?
That he was worthy?

It’s all ego
All of it
All of our worthiness projects
At least most of them

Peace be still
Peace be still
The storm rages
Peace be still

When Pastors Lament

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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

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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”

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Letters to My Son: Forests & Shoulders

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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

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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.

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