The Nashville Statement on Sexuality; a pastoral response

I have lost most of my exclusionary tendancies towards people within the church–especially around the Lord's table. So having read the Nashville Statement, written as a defense of traditional Biblical interpretation against LBGT behavior, I recognize within it a language I'm increasingly finding foreign. My question to the church is this, "But what are you willing to do to reach them?" Obviously holding the LBGT community off at arms distance isn't working. It's fostered hostility from both sides. Here's my thinking; If holiness looks like a church having no simblance, stain, appearance, or apparition of sin, then no church is holy. When did the appearance of holiness become the mission for the church? It isn't. It's to minister the power of Jesus's love and grace and mercy to those who feel unworthy or disqualified or marginalized. Which causes me to take a different posture. I would suggest the church recover the example of Jesus, who having dined with the prostitues, thieves, and men and woman of all manner of social "unholiness", received direct and pointed criticism that he was too close to sinners.

"And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reeling in with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' but when he heard of it, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:10-13 (ESV)

God was being accused of hobbnobbing with sinners too much. Just sit with that for awhile. Jesus dined with those who, according to Old Testament law, should have been stoned to death for their behavior.

Fidelity to Scripture, at least in the way Evangelical churches have defined fidelity for the last 50 years, is not a fidelity to the God we find revealed in Jesus Christ. It has not been faithful to Patristic teachings. It has not been faithful to the historic Church. It has not been faithful to one of the central themes of Christianity; that of being with the "least of these." I know there is imagery of the church being white and blameless at the the coming of Jesus (which for me is a humorous double entendres here in my context of rural Ralls County, Missouri). I get that. But Jesus laid down his claim to whiteness (ahem…) and blamelessness in order to go and be present to the very people who were excluded and barred from the religious order of the day. The white linen of His garments were stained with the soil of people's lives and circumstances. And it bothered Him none.

I would pray that churches open up space for those whom they deem are wholly unlike them. And for that to happen in a meaningful way, means that categorization needs to stop. And how this looks is specific to each community of faith. For the small mostly fundamentalist churches in my rural area, it must mean they practice recognizing the image of God in every person. It may mean, when they see someone that they harbor resentment towards, they speak a mantra to themselves, "they were worth Jesus dying for, too." It may mean intentionally befriending someone who they considered to be "other" and sharing a meal with them. It may mean that as a subversive act against all our Ralls County "whiteness" and "rightness", we intentionally make a friend of a black person, gay person, a muslim, or–and hold on to your seat–a Democrat. And if it starts in our life in small ways, it spills in to our faith communities in small and subtle, yet formative and beautiful ways.

I'll take my cues from Jesus.

"But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant[a] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled." Luke 14:16-24

But back to the Nashville Statement.

There's plenty of room at the banquet table–the table where we all come to eat of the body and blood of Jesus Christ to be formed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The questions the Evangelical church must wrestle within their community is this; How do we balance faithfulness to Scripture with faithfulness to the community around us? If they aren't held together with wisdom and love, we get things like the Nashville Statement and other defensive postures that utterly cripples the Church from being faithful to the mission of Christ. If faithfulness to Scripture looks like exclusion of a people group, then I'm curious that if on the day of Judgement we will be condemned for a lack of faithfulness to the letter of the law or–and this is what I see in the teachings of Jesus–that we will be condemned for not entering into the lives of those around us–regardless of sexual preference or gender identity–with compassion and mercy.

Even as I type these words, my heart feels torn, because I don't think I've captured it. I'm still saying words like, "'we' need to be more with 'them.'" And I fear it just propagates an "us" verses "them" posture which is exactly the problem. Because the reality is, and this may be what Jesus was trying to get at, "We are 'them.'"

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When the River Flows Backwards

Don’t feel sorry for us. We’re ok. And we’re going to be ok. But the last two years of our lives together have aged us and strained us and bent us into contortions befitting the ancient tradition of Kama Sutra. But unlike that—and we’ve all found a copy under our brother’s bed, haven’t we—it hasn’t been pleasurable or romantic or unifying or titilating.
I’m almost tired of talking about it. Or thinking about it. And if it weren’t for the occasional—probably more than occasional—tremors and aftershocks that follow such traumatic quaking of the heart’s firmament, I’d have taken the advice of many aquaintences and just “suck it up” or “get on with it” or “no pain no gain” and whatnot.

Having lived my life next to the Mississippi River, I’ve heard tales and stories of the 1812 earthquake that hit the New Madrid fault line the through Southern Missouri which caused the Mississippi River, at one point, to flow backwards.

It’s an improbable tale.

Come with me for a moment to the deck of a flat boat where a trapper is conveying his cargo of furs down the river towards Cape Girardeau. In an instant, the water begins to ripple and your eyes go to the shore where the large cottonwoods begin shimmering and the ones nearer the bank heave into the river with cracking roots and spectacular splashes. You move your rudder to take your creaking craft away from the shoreline. As you you make it further from the bank and nearer to the channel you stand and observe the landscape around you, looking for familiar landmarks. They aren’t there. You stand up to gain a better perspective and fear grabs your ankles like tentacles, fastening them to the rickety deck of this boat. The shore ceases its slow parade upstream as you cease being carried down with the current. There is no movement at all. And in a moment, the muddy water seems to groan as it takes a beleaguered breath. It’s chest heaves upward and you perceive a small wall of water like an ocean wave coming towards you from downriver. Your heart fails as you hit the deck and begin to grasp for whatever hold your fingers can find, pressing your pale face into the waterlogged wood of the rough deck. A water choked scream for rescue gushes from the bottom of your being.

Have you been caught in a vortex? Is this some legendary and wrathful whirlpool? Has leviathan finally come, wielding the judgement of its Creator?

The surge of water picks up your boat and pushes it, along with debris, junk, and other boats unfortunate enough to be here at this place at this time. The water is violent as it spins and tumbles you, half drowning you in its turbulence.

The maladventure was short-lived. In a few more moments, the wave subsides altogether, the water—although churned into a thick soup of river muck—resumes its long slow march towards the gulf, just like is has for thousands of years and just like it will for many more.

And so the story of the earthquake is not a long one. It is actually quite uncompelling in its shortness. In fact many doubt that anything spectacular happened and stare at you dumbly as you guardedly tell them your story. Maybe you did make it up? Maybe you are having some psychosis? Did you simply overreact to some wind whipped waves?

I don’t have proof, except for the aftershocks. Again, no one else can feel them. And even I think they may just be phantoms and ghosts of my imagination. But if that were true then why when I look at the water do I feel the pangs of suspicion and betrayal? Why when I see odd ripples crisscrossing a smooth sunset lit pond, do I feel the same anxiety and panic that carried me away that day.

There’s death in my soul and I don’t know how to cast it out.

But what we need in times like this is someone to say words of comfort.

“You did not die. You are still together. This quaking frame of a man is the same man who stood before. Two feet under two legs. You’re going to be fine.”

“But how and why?” The questions crash into my heart.

But what we need in times like this is someone to say words of reality.

“The tectonic plates moved. As one fault line sunk under the other, it created a depression in the river bed that, now being the lowest point in that portion of the river, disrupted the usual flow of the river as it temporarily reversed course to fill in the new void.”

That’s it, really.

Reality sounds cold and undramatic. Because it is.

So presently the task of a survivor becomes made aware to him.
-Stand up.
-Learn to trust the water again.
-Map the new landscape.
-Mark the channel.

But do take your time. There is no rush. Everyone’s heart beats at a different speed and rhythm. Everyone’s legs stop shaking sooner or later, if they stop shaking at all. But even shaky legs are sufficient to hold a person up.

And if you feel like you’ve drowned, washed up on the shore, laying limply in unpeaceful rest, there are but two consolations. Firstly, and most importantly—although you may dispute this—please know and trust that you are not alone. Secondly, if your heart has stopped beating, please know the resuscitation process is often just as violent as the quake that shook you to this place. But someone will come. Someone who cares and loves and sees and knows. How will they know? Do you still think you are the first one to experience the Mississippi River to flow backwards? (See number 1) But this person, whoever it may be, is coming. They will find you and you and will beat your chest so hard you will think they are killing you again. But, alas, your shattered heart will find itself once more and your water-logged lungs will breath again.

You will be ok.

You will live.

You will thrive.

And you will again rediscover the mystique and mystery of this river again.

You won’t need to find its current, it will graciously find you.

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When the Whale Doesn’t Come

This post isn’t for you. It’s for me and for those who have found themselves lost at sea. It’s one o’clock in the morning. The wind is blowing outside and the hum of the box fan propped up in the window can be heard vibrating through the house. It’s 80 degrees outside. And it’s 80 degrees inside. The forecast says the weather is supposed to change and begin storming later in the morning. So be it.
I’m five months and nine days into a season that I never wanted to be in. I’ve lost my church. I’ve lost relationships. And I’m lost somewhere between Tarshish and Nineveh. I’ve been tossed overboard and there’s no whale in sight.
But it’s not just me. My wife and children were lashed to me when I was tossed and they tumbled overboard involuntarily.
And we’re clinging to driftwood.

So be it.

At first we sang songs of promise. We recited stories of redemption and salvation. It caused the salt water to taste a little sweeter.
But we saw mere potential and called it a promise.
Our songs have grown quieter. Our stories are fewer.
Silence is the glue that holds our hopes together.
And the salt water was never sweet.
It burns our throats as we swallow. It always had.
These hours melt into days and the days go by unrecognizable from one another. It’s Sunday again?
And so we cling to one another and we grapple for whatever grip and hold we can find among the drifting debri.
If I knew which direction to go I’d swim there.
I’d love to swim. Long strokes that stretch the back with the violent and controlled kicking that propels. I’d love to swim. I want to swim.
If I could get my bearings from the stars, l could know which way to kick.
But I don’t know how to get my bearings from the stars. None of the antique stores in Hannibal carried astrolabes.

So be it.

22 Sundays have come and gone. I’ve counted them. I’ve spoken them. And I’ll recite them again;

Epiphany
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
4th Sunday after Epiphany
5th Sunday after Epiphany
6th Sunday after Epiphany
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Transfiguration Sunday
1st Sunday of Lent
2nd Sunday of Lent
3rd Sunday of Lent
4th Sunday of Lent
5th Sunday of Lent
Palm Sunday
Easter
2nd Sunday of Easter
3rd Sunday of Easter
4th Sunday of Easter
5th Sunday of Easter
6th Sunday of Easter
7th Sunday of Easter
Pentecost

You didn’t read them all did you? I get it. It’s hard to do. The words melt together into a bland porridge in the brain.

How long did Jonah tread water? At what point in his struggle to keep his chapped lips above the water was he swallowed into mercy? How many times did his head sink below the waves?

Here’s the thing about salt water; it stings within the wounds, but it helps you see through the water every time the waves drag you under.

Eyes open to the monsters below. But not all monsters are there to kill. Some rescue.

So I’m learning to hold my breath as my head goes under, open my eyes, and watch for leviathan.

What happens when God doesn’t rescue?

The psalmist cries, “Hear my cry, o God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.”

I know, I’ve read those lines a thousand times, too. But, and maybe as with you, I didn’t trust the writer. I dismissed him as dramatic, too sentimental, words to be relegated as libretto in a Victorian era opera.

But nothing makes the heart panic like tasting saltwater. It’s only when I can find the tremble of terror in the psalmist’s voice that I get it. Only when I can smell the saltwater on his breath do the words pierce my spirit.

Because,
My heart is faint.
My rope is running out.
Disaster looms.
The end of my earth is near.

Rescue me.
Or don’t.
But let me know either way.

I don’t want to have to preach to myself. But there’s no other preacher spilling the words to soothe my pain.

Here’s what I would say if I had to say anything:
God isn’t rescuing you. God is with you.
The hell you are going through isn’t who you are.
Your location in the middle of a sea of destruction isn’t your true position.

The psalmist goes on to say,”Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,”
and “you have been my refuge…”
God was his refuge in the MIDST of the end of his hope.

And “a strong tower in the midst of my enemies…” In the midst. With.
“Let me dwell in your tent forever. Let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

A refuge…shelter…strong tower…but not rescued.

This preaching doesn’t elicit amens. But hear it.

I think mercy swallows us just as we let go and slip under the surface of the water, resigned to death. It’s in the sinking. It’s in the freefall.

But I don’t know how to die. I don’t know how to inhale the water. I don’t know how to stop thrashing. I look around and those lashed to me stare back in wild-eyed panic.

How do I teach my family to die? What’s that pep talk? Where’s that children’s book?

We must learn to drown. We must learn to sink.

“I believe in Jesus Christ…He suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to the dead.”

So be it.

The next wave is about to crash and I swear I can see the dark outline of something just below the surface.

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Setting the Table; An Invitation to Belong

When I was a child, my grandparents had a working ranch near Dodge City, Kansas. It was a couple thousand acres sprawled across sandy slopes of alfalfa and corn bordered by the Arkansas River on the north that always ran dry. This is where my family vacationed as a kid. I have many memories here; cowboys and Indians, the grumpy dog, football, pet raccoons, riding the moped on the dusty farm roads hours upon end. But some of the greatest memories I have is dinnertime with the family.

My family is large. My grandparents had 4 children, one being my mother. When all four aunts and uncles and all their progeny were present, it was a sight to behold. At a minimum we had 10 adults and 16 grandchildren. To pull in the vernacular of the ranch, it was as a herd. And how dinnertime went is best described as a controlled stampede.
The adults ate in the main dining room while the kids were relegated—for logistical reasons—to the breakfast nook—within ear shot of the adults, but outside the effective parental visual control perimeter or EPVCP. The adult table sat 10 comfortably. The kids table sat 4 comfortably. So cramming 12 more children around that table just added to the mystical experience of family.

As you can imagine, dinners were wonderful and raucous. The adults ate in some form of regality and poise interrupted only by their frequent threats of bodily harm if we didn’t “turn it down.” We relished dinner time. We cut up. We laughed. We did impressions of our favorite Goonies character. We made faces and spilled drinks. We poked fun at the middle child in each family until one of them cried. We strained jello between our teeth. It was the best of times.

Then there were the times when not everyone was present. The kids, therefore, weren’t relegated to the breakfast nook and we were invited to sit at the table of adulthood in the sanctuary of seriousness. Elbows off the table when you eat your corn cob. Napkins in your lap. No un-useful chatter. No Goonies impressions. No sugar in your tea. From this vantage point you can sense the tensions that time brings into relationships. You can hear the quiet echo of pain in the short conversations. The uneasy smiles. The diverted glances. Is there love here? Truckloads. It’s undeniable and palpable. But, it is not perfect love. This is the erosion of time upon love. This is what love looks like when it carries the wrinkles of age, limps with pain, and is scarred with unmet expectations. This is how we have taught each other to love.

I’d give anything to sit at that table again.

I started writing this post because I wanted to make the analogy of the church being a table that we set for others—all generations need to be present and valued and given a voice. But this is pulling my heart strings a little deeper than that. There comes a time in our lives when we cease just sitting at a table and we become the ones who set the table. Think on that. We go from sitting to setting. We become the ones who make others feel welcomed into a family.

And how do we do this? It’s not the silverware. It’s not the fine china. It’s really not even what is served, although much can be said about that.
But to set our table in a way that invites others to belong and feel welcomed begins with intentional love. And I would submit that what that looks like, more than anything, is forgiveness. Love doesn’t exist apart from forgiveness.
When we set the table with forgiveness as the tablecloth, everything placed upon it and done around it flows from love.

It’s what made Jesus’ cross so powerful. If He couldn’t look at his accusers and abusers and say, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing,” then the cross was a needless exercise in how to endure physical pain. But the cross was more. It was the showpiece of the incarnate God revealing His everlasting love and enduring forgiveness for the world. Jesus was showing us how to set a table.

Let’s forgive grandparents for being tired and not hearing well. Let’s forgive parents for being absorbed in their careers in order to provide shelter, food, and safety. Let’s forgive our siblings and cousins for carving out their own lives independent of us. Let’s forgive our children for the emotional toll they take from us. Let’s forgive the newborns for demanding our precious attention and energies. Let’s forgive the stranger for not looking or talking like us. And let’s forgive ourselves—because whatever crappy standard we force everyone else to live up to is ultimately the standard we hold ourselves to.

And so if we can sit around a table offering forgiveness to all who come, laying down judgements, with no expectations other than to just be present with one another, to listen, to speak, to laugh, to make the middle child cry (we can’t let that go), then all of sudden the smells of Kansas come wafting back into memory—a blend of sweet manure and lime jello salad—and we experience once again the joy and whimsy of a love that is slowly being perfected. And when we have this, we have community. We have family. We have church.

Go set your table.

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Is This What Lent Feels Like?

Today’s daily readings sunk into my belly like molten lead. The Psalmist has that kind of wild-eyed desperation as he cries, “Make haste to save me, oh God!” But God and haste don’t usually go well together. And later, “…I’ve become a portent to others.” Portent. Are you familiar with the word? I wasn’t. I looked it up. It means an ominous sign of calamity.

I feel that.

In this season of disorientation and lament, I feel as though a sign should be hung around my neck. A sign similar to the ones on the back of dump trucks: “Keep back 500 feet. Not responsible for broken windshields.” Of course you can’t read this until you’re 50 feet away and the truck hits a bump and you see a line of loose gravel fall off the bumper and hit the asphalt at 55 miles per hour. One bounce. Two bounces. Crack.

Is this what Lent feels like?

In the spiritual disciplines I partake of—Scripture reading, prayer, lectio divina, silence—I usually find a lightness of heart. A lifting of spirit. A filling of grace. A partaking of the divine love of Christ. And it’s marvelous.

Most of the time.

But this season…this season I’ve reached a limit. I’ve hit a wall. I’m seeing where the Spirit is pointing and I’m working feverishly to avoid eye contact.

What is He wanting?

I remember when Peter protested Jesus’ awkward offer to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus, standing there in his undergarments, at dinner, with a towel wrapped around His waist, poured water into a basin. And without commentary or proclamation, he knelt down before the twelve dusty and dirty men and began washing their feet.

I have a problem with this.

It’s different than Peter’s problem. Peter challenged Jesus over His embarrassing “servant-leader” posture. Peter thought Jesus was beneath this God-washing-men’s-feet scandal. But, I challenge it simply because I don’t like people touching my feet.

Not that I have bad feet. I don’t. They’re flip-flop worthy. But don’t look too close. In high school I wore bad shoes which caused an ingrown toenail to infect my left big toe. The pain was unbearable. The doctor eventually cut away the outside perimeter of the nail and put a chemical under the cuticle that killed the cells that stopped that portion of the nail from growing back.

Except it didn’t work. It eventually grew back. And so now I have a toenail that has a small sliver of separate nail that grows alongside it—seemingly fused to the other nail—but still separate. It’s weird. You probably wouldn’t notice it, but I do. And I wince every time I see it.

This is uncomfortable to read, isn’t it? I’ll keep going.

Odor, nail fungus, plantar warts, corns, bunions, blisters, deformed toes, and callouses are just a few of the embarrassing defects of our feet. So we wrap them in socks and put a layer of rubber and leather around them to keep them out of sight, out of mind.

And we bring all of this, all our bunions and callouses to Christ all buttoned up in shiny wing tips and Christ looks at our fancy shoes and points to the waxed brown laces and says, “I’m gonna wash your feet.”

And we respond in unison with Saint Peter, “Hell, no.”

This is what Lent feels like.

It’s Christ raising His arms in a mock taunt saying, “If you want part of this, if you want any of me, you have to let me wash you.”

And so we offer up the skin that’s already exposed. “Wash my arms. Wash my face. Wash the back of my neck. These are dirty enough.”

But Christ isn’t interested in what has already been exposed to sunlight and fresh air. He calls for the hidden and grotesque, the painful and the deformed.

He wants the limp.

And so we bend down, embarrassed, to untie our shoes. And we hesitantly allow a God incarnate, clothed in his undergarments, with a towel around his waist, to bend down beneath us and touch and hold and cradle and caress our cracked and unlovely parts.

This is what Lent feels like.

Christ invites us to become comfortable with a God who is comfortable with our feet. He is not put off by us or our hidden things. He sees through our posturing and pretense. He looks past the sin to see our brokenness. And in seeing it, He invites us to see it, too. He invites us to gaze upon the reality of our condition. He invites us to awaken to the fact that we are fully known.

And in being fully known, we are not cast out. In being fully known we are not discarded. In being fully known we are not rejected. Rather, in this awkward act of vulnerability we allow the loving hands of Christ to touch us where we most long—and most fear—to be touched.

Lent is the process of Christ pointing down and saying, “I’m going to wash your feet,” and us learning to respond with, “yes, Lord.”

Meditation:
If I could walk you through a simple meditation it would be centered upon this image of Jesus, in his undergarments, with an towel wrapped around His waist, kneeling before you with a bowl of water at his side. He looks up to you and points down towards your feet. See Him and hold this image for a moment before reading on.

Are you feeling a pang of anxiety?
What are you afraid He will see? Mark this thought before continuing to read.

Now, pay attention to the emotions that rise up as you see yourself bending to untie your shoes and remove them one by one. Next, you peel off your socks, fully exposing your feet to Christ.

In this next movement, please invite the Holy Spirit to direct your imagination.

If Christ was truly a man of sorrows, acquainted with pain and grief, able to empathize with us in every experience, then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how Christ reacts when He sees your innermost darkness and woundedness.

See Him tenderly pick up your foot and hold it with care. Slowly running His hand over your bumps, bunions, and broken bones. He doesn’t look away in shame or disgust, but rather He looks with compassion.

I would love it if you would allow Him to speak something to you. It may be worth meditating on to see what the Holy Spirit breathes into your heart in this intimate and vulnerable moment.

For me—and this is just for me—I can hear Jesus singing a song over my dark places the way a grandmother sings under her breath as she rests on the front porch at sundown. I can’t quite make out the words as He mouths the lyrics, but the gentle melody is awash with death and resurrection.

This is what Lent feels like.

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The Chemistry of the Kingdom

I took a vow once to underline every verse in Matthew that started out with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…”. My self-diagnosed ADD made sure it was a temporary vow.

I like going back and meditating on these underlined passages. I think it’s funny—in a very ADD way—that Scripture never really tells us what the kingdom is, rather it points to what it looks like. Jesus used metaphors, cryptic similes, and other figures of speech that, at times, leave me slowly nodding my head in the same way I used to in my high school Chemistry class to cloak my disdain for and pure ignorance of chemical compounds and how many molecules of some periodic element merged—in my opinion, in a very suspicious and possibly immoral way—to another electron which gave it magical properties that may or may not be explosive. I always had an affinity towards the explosive which never happened frequently enough in class to keep the attention of (pointing my thumbs) THIS guy.

So what do you do if you’re not good at chemistry? You hope to pastor those who are good at chemistry.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

I love these Kingdom moments in Scripture, because it allows the imagination—something unallowed in the rigid formulas of chemistry—to form what we see the Kingdom to be. So in the above passage from Matthew chapter 13, verse 31-32, Christ likens his kingdom to a mustard seed.

Can you see it? A dark speck buried in deep creases of the farmer’s palm.

Squinting to make out its shape and color, she kicks a groove in the soil below. Squatting down, she upends her hand over the broken ground, dropping the seed. Immediately, she turns her palm over again to be assured that the seed fell.

It takes faith to sow small seeds.

Weeks, months, years go by as the seed germinates into a recognizable plant. But unlike the other garden plants, this one continues to grow—large and towering over its fellow flora.

Here’s the crux; the preferred modus operandi in the Kingdom of God is slow, small, hidden, and private.
Sow seeds of tears.

Sow seeds of prayers.

Whisper the silent songs of your heart.

Don’t be impatient with small beginnings.

Sow the small seeds.

Be faithful.

Wait.

Then, one day, without much notice and devoid of pomp, you will see what has become of you. A tree. Large. Spread out. Rooted. Surprise.

Maybe it was the chicking and peeping of the birds nesting in your branches that awakened you to your evolvement.

And with one contented sigh, you will realize that this, this is the Kingdom.

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Reasons I Use the Book of Common Prayer

On a whim a several years ago I bought an inexpensive copy of the Book of Common Prayer. When the Amazon package showed up on my door I opened it, thumbed through it, found the “Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today…” and worked up my best impression of the priest on Princess Bride, and then tossed it aside.

This was before I entered into a season in my ministry that had very much become a do-whatever-you-can-do-to-just-breathe-and-survive kind of existence. God had brought me to a church, fundamental in its belief and practices, beautiful in its expression, and dogmatic in its convictions. And by this time four years had passed and I was tired. There’s something about walking with people through their a journey of faith and weaving through their suffering and heartache that causes pastors to question just about everything there is to question in theology and practice. And on top of my internal frothing and tossing, there was also an external source of pain as I was consistently fielding complaints and criticisms of the direction I was leading the church. I soon found myself empty, hollowed out by whispers and suspicion, my foundation shaken. And so my life, my spirituality, the wholeness of my existence was shattering and I desperately needed something to cling to.

It was here in the midst of this season that I again picked up that Book of Common Prayer (BCP).

Everything within me disdained this little book. In my charismatic tradition the liturgy tucked between the BCP’s covers stood for an oppressive and Pharisaical religious system that snuffed out the life of the Holy Spirit and caused people to follow a form of worship instead of worshiping a living Spirit. It felt a whole lot like LAW and, baby, I’m here for the LIFE! Can I get an amen?! (Did you read that in your inner televangelist voice? You should have.)

But actually, my lack of form in worship had snuffed out the life of the Spirit in me. I had reached the limits of my ability to drum up the Spirit in worship. I didn’t have anymore tricks in my bags. I ran out of words. So the charismatic would say, just pray in tongues. And I did. I prayed in tongues until the oxygen left the room. Prayer and worship felt like I was chasing rabbits from one brush pile to the next. I knew there was something in there but to shake it out and stir it up was exhausting.

And so over and again, this little green book sitting in a stack of unread books on my desk kept coming back to my heart.

One day I opened it up, determined to learn it and use it. I watched a few online tutorials on how to navigate its labyrinth. And day after day I found myself drawn to these pages filled with prayers, Psalms, and intercessions. Repeating them. Growing into them. Living them. Finding the comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit in them. It became the driftwood I clung to as I washed over the watery rapids of heartache.

But why should you begin using it?

1) It provides language for pain.

What I’m about to say can’t be overstated. There are times in life when I simply don’t have the words for prayer. I can’t express the tumultuous emotions that are filling my lungs like seawater. Or if I did try to put words to my turmoil, I felt like I was coming off disingenuous. But within the discipline of praying through the BCP, I found a new language. And the tool the BCP uses to shape this language is the Psalms.

Peterson, Brueggemann, Merton, and others have written extensively on praying through the Psalms and I would recommend their work. The gist? We must make the Psalms very personal. In them we find emotion that is vivid and varied and making a personal connection to it is a stretch at times. But we must. Their language must become our language. Because there will be a time. There will be a moment. There will be a tragic season in life when your smooth talking enemies will lay traps before you, waiting on the path to ambush you. There will be a time when your mattress is soaked with tears because to weep is the only response you can muster. There will be a time when the Shepherd walks you through a valley of death-shaped shadows. And in those moments, if you don’t have a language to express your anguish, your soul will languish. It is here that the Psalms are a gift. They aren’t to be studied and mined for information. They are to be prayed as your own prayers.

This is where the BCP is golden. Used as a daily discipline, the whole Psalter is read every month. Every Psalm every month. All that language. All that anguish. All that joy. All that despair. All that hope. In you. Everyday these words are practiced. Everyday these words become our own.

2) Confession and Absolution

“Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor,” is a line that is spoken. Again and again. Over and over. Followed by reflective silence, this discipline of confession is where the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are fully known. It forces us to not just acknowledge the old dusty sins that we wrestle with, but to day by day allow the Spirit to plumb the depths of our being to uncover the brokenness and privilege and blindness that we walk with and treat others with. It reveals our limp. And with open hands we humbly present it to God.

And then the magically soothing words are spoken back over us, “Almighty God have mercy on you…,” every day. Over and over. Again and again. It’s uncomfortable and painful. But it’s healing and right. Just as confession is a discipline, so is reaching out our hands to receive God’s love and mercy.

3) Communion of the saints

We Evangelicals are hellbent on individualistic faith aren’t we? “Personal relationship with Jesus.” “My quiet time.” I’m not wholly dismissive of it. Personal faith is important, but faith that is only personal is incomplete. We are baptized into a faith—into a body—into a people. We belong to something.

The BCP connects us back to the vital community of Christ*. It’s full of the language of us, we, and you.

Let us praise the Lord.” 

“Let us confess our sins.” 

“O God, make speed to save us.”

And all this “us” language connects us with the hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world who are speaking those same words and prayers in that moment. It gives such a deep sense of belonging and rootedness in the universal Church. Common language has power.

I will admit that at first I felt a little Schizophrenic reading these words while alone in my bedroom,

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

 Let us pray.”

I am, awkwardly, both the call and the response. But once I understood that I am a participant in both the giving of blessing towards the community of Christ and the receiving of blessing from that same community, the power of these words becomes unquenchable. I am both the blesser and receiver in the midst of community even while being alone. It’s an exercise in humility and vulnerability as I submit myself to the communion of the saints through the Daily Office. There’s something about it that reminds me that I am rooted. I am connected.

*please attend your local church on Sundays

4) Church Calendar and Lectionary

Put down your copy of the One Year Bible and pick up the BCP. In it is a daily system of reading Scripture that takes you through the whole narrative of Scripture in 2 years. Each day there are readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospels. Four readings that, like a silk string, stitch all of Scripture together in a beautiful arrangement of themes that unfold like a beautiful tapestry. This lectionary is also a gateway into celebrating the Church Calendar, which I have so many thoughts on, but do not have enough space here to give it its due. I may splatter some words on a page about that topic soon, but for now, just Google it and use your imagination, which brings me to my final thought.

A colleague of mine, Jerusalem Greer, says that the way to breathe life into the liturgy (which I know is a four letter word in my tradition, but we’re coming around) is two-fold; Memory and Imagination.

Memory: to give this language of love, devotion, and praise a place in your heart through repetition and practice. Imagination: to experience the Holy Spirit meeting us in power through the ancient words, the well worn paths, and the acts of devotion. The BCP gives a beautiful framework for the transformative voice of the Holy Spirit to speak and for us to respond well.

So I would encourage you to pick up a copy. Try it. Immerse yourself in its rhythms. Amazon has several copies that are really inexpensive. There are also a few apps available that help walk you through morning and evening prayer. Blessings to you.

Comments are welcomed and I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions.

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Audio for Prayer

Hey, CoreConf16ers, here is the audio file to download. It’s 15 minutes long, which is a perfect amount of time for quieting your heart throughout the day. Use it as you will. -Pastor Jared

 

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Bend and See

Bee FlowerIn the stale rhythm of winter one thing circulates through my mind. It’s the knowing that Spring is next. Does it come in March or April? I can never remember. Even after 34 rhythms of Spring-coming-after-Winter, it still surprises me.
The first snow of winter excites me. The second one, too. The third bluster still brings a smile. The next, a little less so. Winter time stands still. The trees are still bare. The days are longing to stretch out with a bright yawn. My truck’s battery still dies in the cold.

I know Spring is coming, but I forget how it comes.
Then it comes all of a sudden.

The neighbor taps the maple trees.
Is it time, already?
I check the branches on the fruit trees. Maroon buds cracking to show the green life beneath. Almost.
I look to the hills and a pale green hue frosts the high canopy of the oak forests. It’s far out of reach.
I walk through the softening grass and look.
Below, I hear the faint electric hum of honeybees. I look down and spot one, two, three busily hopscotching from one emerging patch of green to the next.
I bend closer. And I find small violets hiding in the understory of the grass. Perfect blue flowers—or are they purple? Too small to tell. But the bees are satisfied with their little bits of nectar.

It’s as though the bees point and say, “Here is life. It’s down here. Hidden.”
And I am invited to look in unfamiliar places.

I’m sure I’ll forget next year from where this life first sprang. But maybe I’ll walk a little slower. Listen a little closer. Look a little deeper. And I’m sure I’ll be reminded again.

And this is my role, too, the role of the bee? To point where life springs. To point where people are not looking and say, “Here. Here is life.”

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Killing Gungor

Michael-Gungor The blood still stains the teeth of theologian yard dogs after they  encircled and mauled their victims the last few weeks.

They follow the headlines and the rumors and the scent of blood and without questioning, without hesitating, without knowing, they throw mercy to the wind like chaff and with a jolt grab the victim by the face and rip.

I hate the sound of ripping.

“Dove-Award Winning Gungor Rattles Christian World…” –Christian Post
“Creationist Ken Ham ‘Alarmed’ by Michael Gungor’s Latest ” –Charisma News
“Did This Artist Just Deny Christ’s Divinity?” –Charisma News

And they get away with it every time.

Here’s the problem; Gungor represents a tribe of *millions* of young people who ask questions and have doubts and are finding ways to rethink what it is to be a 21st century Christian. They want/love/worship Jesus, but honestly feel that fundamentalist dogma insults their God-given intelligence. And they have every right to believe that.

But we need these people.

The Church needs people who ask questions, challenge long held beliefs, and present new [read old] ideas. Luther was a gungor. Galileo was a gungor. John Wesley was a gungor. Heck, Calvin was even a gungor.

Here’s the bit; if we keep this up, if we keep letting the packs of theological yard dogs destroy our reformers…

1) A generation of artists, poets, thinkers, scientists, and dreamers will be lost

They don’t reject Christ, but they may reject certain orthodoxy. Are you threatened by that? Can you still disciple them? If no one else will be a pastor to artists, poets, scientists and dreamers, I will. The Kingdom of God needs them. We need them.

2) We will suffocate authentic community among believers

If we can’t articulate our doubts and questions without seeing a flash of teeth and fangs, then our community is only a shallow veneer. And without authentic community there can be no authentic transformation. We need the questions. We need the honesty. As a pastor, I endeavor to never be surprised with someone’s story and journey. I will meet you at whatever on-ramp you decide to take towards Christ.

It’s time to pick up sticks and defend our gungors.

 

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