You Will Always Be A Part Of The Church

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When I share with friends and colleagues that I want to leave the church I often hear, “You will always be a part of the church.”  I get the comfort and care that is behind this statement.  When faced with someone you care for and love you want to heal them, nurture, and respect them.  I have taken this statement with that sentiment for quite awhile.

 

I have pondered, desired, and dreamed of leaving the church almost as soon as I got saved and joined the church.  At times my being part of the church was terrifying, lonely, desperate, and utter bliss.  I can point to a few important and formative years in which I was madly in love with the church.

 

The church has been a parent to me in many ways.  I never realized this until I started studying family systems theory and underwent a long intense period of therapeutic counseling.  In this I realized the wanderlust I held around the church, the love-hate relationship I had with her children, and the fear bound up in my picture of God made me an intimate part of God’s family.  Thus, I am part of its system.

 

Over time I realized that I was not bound eternally to this family.  I could extricate myself from its grips.  I was not subject to its definition.  In this, I could freely participate or not in the families activities.  The family would be a part of me, a part of my history.  My mothertounge of faith.  The church would always be with me…but what if I did not want it to be?  What then?

 

I flipped my shit.  I got panicked and lost what peace I had.  I held on to this idea of veiled vision.  I reached in to The Matrix and got double-crossed.  The free association I imagined the church to be was not so freely associated with.  A decision I made in my 20’s and one made by my parents upon their 6-month-old child bound me to an eternity of harps, singing, and white clouds.  This is juxtaposed with the alternative of red satin curtains, lust, darkness, and eternal damnation.  I was fucked no matter what choice I made.

 

What if I don’t want to chose between either?  I am not a fan of singing.  I really don’t like to worship.  I like clouds but would hope to spend eternity on firmer ground.  I also am not a fan of suffering or damnation.  I like the color red but do not like satin anything.  So, whatever I chose I would be unhappy.

 

Stuck between a rock and a hard place I silently accepted this quagmire and set out to discover me in the institutional church as a pastor.  I was not the best student, nor the worst.  I was inspired by some parts of seminary and other parts of the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  I did have a few professors reach out to me and encourage my inquisitive nature.  Colleagues and institutional authorities told me that the ministry I sought to do was not really ministry and that there is no place for me in the “traditional” church.  I would need to forge my own path.

 

They were indeed right that I would have to forge my own path.  For almost nine years now I have been in some sort of formal or informal process to prove myself to the institution that I am indeed called to ministry and fit to answer that call to ministry.  I begrudgingly participated in the process.  There were times of great affirmation and moments of deep depression and outright rejection.  This soured me on ministry at worst and at best provided the framework for my current evacuation from church.

 

I never really liked the option of choosing between party Hev or party Hel.  I flirted with leaving the church and did so for a period after my first call ended.  Spiritual torment followed as I sought to establish a new norm, one that did not involve the two-party system.

 

I was certainly no longer considering that I would always be a part of the church.  I wanted nothing to do with the church.  This is difficult when ones world revolves around the insular perspectives of church friends, church colleagues, church partner, church student loan debt, church underemployment, church hope, church dreams, church life, and church is more than it seems.

 

I respect those that hold a faith in doctrine and creeds.  I admire those that pursue a dogmatic faith.  I get the need for apologetics in someone faith.  I welcome the arriving and formed community around a common faith or hope.  I have experienced it all.  I have been a multiplicity of Christian ways and beings.  None of it works for me.  It is toxic.

 

I suffer as I seek to apply the expectations of church to my life.  I am bound by the gospel and cannot live in to it.  I do not play well with church.  I am abrasive and brash with little to no patience with the dying ways of yesterday’s church.  I have minimal space to offer Jesus and his followers’ teachings to rest in my heart.  When I hear you say, “You will always be a part of the church” I cringe and shut down.  I recoil at your assertion upon me.

 

I take offense to it and hear, “Its ok.  You don’t know but you’ll be back.  Your fruit less quest is in vain.  All there is to know lies in Christian doctrine.  What you do and seek is not really faith.”  I don’t have time for the toxic thoughts in my life.  I would rather live a life of love and service to an unknown God than to spend a minute trying to stand in the rule requiring God’s presence.

 

Many years ago I went to a Christian college conference in southern California where Alistair Begg was speaking.  He spoke about the Christian faith in the face of the worlds demand of having a“Jesus and…” kind of faith.  He spoke in waves about the worlds demands watering down ones faith with the “Jesus and.”  You cannot have “Jesus and!!!” he said.  “Jesus and” leads to a faith not worth living.  I held on to this and it fashioned my faith.  Even when I rejected the evangelical conservatism that had sparked my faith I held on to the utter abandonment of Begg’s “Jesus and.”  I see this as the cancer in the faith I am rejecting.

 

The “Jesus and” dares me to reject the church in its entirety.  The “Jesus and” is the fabric of which the statement, “You will always be a part of the church” is woven.  Both statements assume that Jesus is the way, the light, and the truth.  This is something that I do not currently believe.

Trust me, that I might help you.

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My response to this recent article in the Presbyterian Outlook (full disclosure, I’ve not read this magazine on a regular basis since 2008.)

I appreciate this piece. I have dawdled around the PC(USA) for most of my young adulthood. Often being asked why I stayed by friends and colleagues that openly point to the hostile encounters they have had with the church, not caring about the nuanced arguments of denominationalism or the apologetic creed machine that I sought to offer. The church has indeed offered little space for myself and other traveling carnival spectacles.

The margins we sought to expand have sapped much of our strength and left many of us in the sunset of those precious young adult years. It is my hope that this “resurrection generation” define themselves, not living in to another hopeful or otherwise label set forth by the failed hopes and dreams of a boomer generation. The described hope in this article is inspiring, too bad it is devoid of trust in us to live in to the call God has placed upon us. boomers if you want to help, please advocate for resources, support, and prayer for us to do so.

If you want to help bring about this resurrection generation, stop filling sessions across the nation with fear and anxiety and trust us to lead.

If you want to help bring about this resurrection generation, liquidate the endowments and pay us a living wage, support a seminarian or two, and bless the leadership with the ability to breath outside of crippling student debt and trust us.

If you want to help bring about this resurrection generation, allow us to minister in the margins by be mature in faith so that you might tend to each other as we go into the wilderness and connect with the flocks outside of the church walls.

We stuck around because we could not leave our mother when she was ill. We stayed because we would not let her suffer alone. We cannot fail, for failure is a sign that this mortal coil approaches its limits and grows ready for that miracle-filled, wonder working, radical hippie, to stroll in stir it up and drop the mic.

Do not reward our presence or give us gratitude for staying…trust us.

Sh!t or Get Off the Pot

Upon recommendation I have started watching “Rev.” It is a BBC show on Hulu+ about a vicar that moves from the quant English countryside to a rough urban parish that attracts riff raff, few congregants, and a seemingly unending flow of crisis.

I watched this show and it resonated with me deeply. I am in my tenth month of spiritual crisis. I have not been in a continuous crisis. I vacillate between belief and unbelief with a huge advantage towards unbelief.

In the last episode of season one the vicar, Adam, is deep in a spiritual crisis. He has an apathetic congregation at best. The congregation struggles with money and its future. The congregation wrestles with identity. Adam is stuck in the middle wonder to what have I committed my life too and why the fuck do I do this? There is little appreciation, support, and it’s a huge financial burden for him to be a vicar.

He attends a party and drinks far too much and embarrasses himself. He gets in to a fight with his wife, who tells him to go home. He grabs a falafel and confronts a group of school-aged hooligans hanging out in the park near the church.

In the heat of the moment he confronts the hooligans and the police arrive to take Adam to hospital to perform last rites over a dying believer. In a crisis of faith he fights the officer over weather if he is the right person to do this.

The police officer asks, “Well, you are the vicar?” Adam recites, “And then I heard Abba’s voice: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” I spoke up, “I’ll go. Send me! [Isaiah 6:8].” Adam sobers up and pulls off his booze soaked surplice and enters the room to perform the last rite.

I have days where I believe. Those days are glorious. In the presence of adversity, difficult news, and the reality of my vocational prospects I manage on some days to believe.

There are days where unbelief reigns. The hardship of life, the daunting tasks that surround redefining ones expectations in life, and the insatiable task of searching for ones identity overtake what faith I have. These are the days I sit under my tree and curse God.

The desert I have wandered for the last ten months has proven formidable. There has been oasis to rest in. There have been numerous kind souls that have offered me water, food, and listened to my story. I have not forgotten about the people and ways that have sustained me up to this point.

I still feel a dry living faith within me. I wonder if God hears me or if I am doing all of this religious hocus pocus right. I wrestle to preach truth to my congregation. I pray, hoping that it helps in some way. I doubt more than have faith.

I wonder why I am in ministry. I wonder that that fact I cannot find full time work in ministry is has a bearing upon my call. Am I not finding full time work in a church because I am not called?

I feel alone as if I am the only one that wrestles with this. I search the news of colleagues in ministry that I respect and see they are doing well. Well, they are in full time ministry. I look at my call and wonder, “why?”

So much of my doubt, anger, and rage are wrapped up in the financial burden I bear in student loans and in me not having full time employment. I wonder out loud that if I had another way to pay bills and pay off these loans would I attend church? Would I be involved in the church if I had no financial ties to it? I believe I would not. In this moment in time I believe I would walk away if I could.

Of course I could walk away. I am not captive by the church. I am bound to pay these debts incurred in pursuit of ordination and service to the church. The church is not burdened by the debt.

I stood up and asked to be sent. I offered my life in service. Jesus did not hide that all of me was required. I had hoped that the all included liberation from unjust financial practices and church bureaucracy that impedes me from paying down my loans.

I wrestle with the limits, definitions, and geography of church and the people of the church. There are good people that have had great experiences within the same systems that abused and exploited me. I try to celebrate the good, the success of my colleagues in ministry as they forge a way forward in this mess. [1]

So much has to change in me, in us, in the church in order to prepare good soil. It is not a matter of resources as much as it is a matter of faith. Do we believe that the God we worship and proclaim is a God of abundance or scarcity? We need to shit or get off the pot with church growth and missional actions. We’ve been too long in the bathroom and there are others waiting to go.


[1] This mess we are in is a failing of the church to believe in the abundance of God and the hording or resources by a few as the many suffer. Our sin is no different that that of this nation. We have sold out the future, the young to maintain our standards and comforts. The sacrifices by those that answer the call today are not sustainable. No one can carry the debt we do in the climate of little to no opportunity and make for a fertile ground to plant and harvest the seeds of Christ. Sure, God can do what God wills. This is a reminder not an excuse. We as the church must invest in the future and spread the sacrifice to all. We have enough for everyone to survive. We have plenty to support each other and minister to the world.

Home is…


You can’t go home again. I am not sure how many times this sentence ran through my head over the last eight years. I know that every trip I took back to the Southland I uttered some form of this sentence either out loud or in my heart as the landing gear stretched out towards the tarmac from underneath the flying tube I was seated. It was something that I pondered a lot prior to leaving for Kenya in 2004.

I had many dreams about death. I never really thought my departure was real, all the way until the point I awoke in a monastery in Nairobi. I figured “they” would find me out as a fraud and send me home packing. I was not sure what I feared. I knew that I was terrified. I knew my life would never be the same. My idea of home expanded, crumbled, and departed. It was renewed, transformed, recovered, and renamed. You can’t go home again.

When I was in late elementary school I had a wonderful imagination. I did play with others, when they were there. I preferred to be left alone. I was deeply introverted. I was tying to make sense of my world. A world turned upside down with the death of my grandfather and my parent’s divorce. My brothers and I were always the last ones in the schoolyard waiting to be picked up by our father, who drove from El Segundo to Westminster every weeknight. I would swing on the swings by myself and dream dreams.

I soared in the clouds looking for an escape. I desperately wanted to be anybody, anyone, and anything other than, Ryan. Inspired by the books I read I explored those places on the swing. I kicked my legs to the pyramids, along the Silk Road, and back and forth between time and space. I would get lost in thought and smile.

I had many homes growing up. I was born in San Fernando. I have lived in Washington State. I lived in Northeast Los Angeles. I lived in Westminster, California. I hit puberty in Westminster and fell in love in the San Fernando Valley. I love and miss them all for various reasons.

I remember my father telling me, “You can’t go home again,” for the first time just after he remarried and we all moved to the Valley. We were heart broken to leave our family and familiar surroundings. We harbored thoughts of breaking up our father’s marriage and then returning to Westminster. It never happened and we never went back home. We forged a new home together. A home I grew to love and miss when I departed across the ocean.

Again, I was on a jetting tube on its way to the Southland. This time I was with my wife. This would be our first trip “home” since we got married in 2008. This time my intimate worlds would collide. My homes would meet each other and I was not sure what would happen.

I have held on to the idea that one day we would return to the Southland, together. That my wife and I would eventually settle down in to our life together back home and then we could get to the real living. I think that is what streaked across my mind when I would travel to and from the Southland.

A part of me was taking an inventory of sorts. Sure it is expensive to live in LA, but you get much more in return. I found myself talking things up prior to our trip. I prayed on several occasions that God would clear the way and melt the heart of my beloved so that she could see this place I called home for what is was, “our predestined love nest of hope and glory.”

Then something happened on this trip. I drove around all the homes I known in my 33 years living in the Southland and with each passing building the memories flooded in and my heart did not budge. It was not a cold and isolating experience. It was more of a recognizing of old friends, old lovers that have moved on from each other. I tried to mourn or weep but it did not seem appropriate.

So much has changed. The mall where we would hang out and smoke cigarettes was now an upscale outdoor supercenter tied together by all your favorite eateries. Gone was the indoor wonderland and the center stage where we watched the parade of beautiful teenage women. Gone was the arcade where we school all takers on the craft of digital WWF wrestling. Gone was the storm channel we used to hang out in and drink beers.

We stopped at our favorite Taquería, El Tapatio. There we meet my oldest friends. The only friends I have know for longer than 22 years. We ordered a burrito. It was the same as I remembered. It was delicious and it made me feel 16 again. We carried on and caught up. It was awesome to be near these guys. I love them very much.

I prayed throughout the day for guidance, awareness from God. “Lord, make in me a new heart. Renew the right spirit within me…” There was not silence. God offered me physical evidence; the signs I used to pray for in abundance. It was not a mystery at all. You can’t go home again.

The Israelites wandered the dessert for 40 years. Jesus hung out in the desert for 40 days. The desert fathers and mothers vacationed in the desert for lifetimes. Countless souls search for the divine in a diversity of ways. I have been in the desert, searching for something. I have lost track of time. God has been calling me out of the desert for some time now. I want to go but I have grown fond of the desert. I am comfortable here. I am afraid to remove the mourners cloak and put on the wedding gown. I have been in a desert of abundance walking a path in hopes of bumping in to God as God has been waiting at the oasis until I got ready to leave the desert.

I am finally learning the never departing lesson; you are home. I no longer search aimlessly in any journey. I am hanging out where I am, trusting that God is searching for me. I will be found. I am not lost. I am found. I am home.

Don’t we are all search for home? Longing for that home we can’t go back to. The home that has keeps on living even as we have departed. A home that has transformed, renewed, reframed, and rejoiced in our departure. A home that fondly remembers us, even if we can no longer remember it’s loving cuddles.

Home is where the heart is. It’s cheesy. It’s true. Home is not a place as much as it is a state of mind. A claim placed upon ones mind and space as to say I am anchored to “_______.” Home, when tied to a physical location dims the divine light to which we truly hunger. You can’t go home again because you never truly left. I wonder if that really is not the Gospel in a simplistic, digestible pill. If I can’t get lost, leave, or return what does that mean for my relationships with God?

It is like removing the fires of hell and the glory of heaven so that all that remains in the pure joy of being in the presence of the Divine. In the end this is what I yearn for more than anything, to be squarely n the presence of the Divine and bask in her home.

Sunday Mornin’ Worship as an Idol

One of my favorite songs is “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” I can’t tell you how true that first verse of the song has been for me in time past. The song goes on to share with us a day in the life of someone that does not include the inside of a church on Sunday. This person narrates their life and what they see as they walk off a hangover and try to shake that alone feeling brought on by it being Sunday morning.

Since about Easter 2002 I have attended Sunday worship almost every weekend. After a quick calculation there have been over 500 Sundays this last decade. I may have missed about 100 of them. So, in the lamb’s book of life I probably got a “B.” I am cool with a “B.” That’s passing, right?

My point is that I have been to and lead a lot of Sunday Worship. In my role as a minister I have been part of many special worship services as well. I have worshipped in foreign countries, delivered impromptu sermons on top of half build damns, and broken bread and celebrated the Table in the dark with grape juice and a stale bread roll.

I am also a huge fan of beautiful liturgy that is fabulously performed by well-practiced presiders and liturgists. I love the beauty and pageantry of rite and ritual that connects yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I was trained by the late, great Reverend Dr. Stanley Robertson Hall to be an innovator as I stood on the shoulders of those saints that came before me. It was impressed upon me that beauty matters in worship. Beauty matters in worship, as it is a reminder of the goodness of God.

It seems ever since I have become part of church leadership there have been conversations in conference rooms everywhere about how to get younger folks in to the pews of the church. This conversation has reached beyond city, State, denomination, and congregational size. This conversation “how to get youth in to the pews”, is at the root and desire of so many in the church.

Contemporary worship, removal of pews, evening service times, and a tiding up or liberation of orthodoxy have all been offered as solutions to this dilemma. I personally have spent years trying to “reframe” the question of “How do we get young folks in the pews?” to “How do we connect and build relationships with young folks?” There have been wonderful success stories about congregations letting go and supporting younger leaders as they set out to be the church in today’s context.

These faith communities become beacons in the night to others that hunger for change. Unfortunately, I have seen more horror stories of congregations holding on to power and hope that the church of yesterday will indeed return and desperately act to get young folks in to church roles in the same fashion tires are rotated on a car.

For me the tire rotation church model is ugly. There is no beauty for me in car maintenance. I am not in denial that maintenance of ones vehicle is not important. It is. Just ask those that call up Click and Clack every week.

I am not in to being treated like a part on a car. I want to be engaged as a part of the car. I want shared importance. I want my gifts to be realized and share them with my community. I want worship to engage me and feed me. I want worship that reflects the value I find in Gods fearfully and wonderfully made world.

In most of the 400 or so Sunday worship service I have attended in the last decade I have not felt engaged on any level. In fact, I attended most of them as an obligation to someone or something. I am not saying I have been left with a massive void in the wake of Sunday worship. I am saying that Sunday worship does not speak to me. That is the honest truth. I am a minster and have lead worship in a spiritually dry way.

In my experience the conversations about connecting, growing, or being in relationship with young folks is varied and dynamic. There is one idol that has always been held on to, Sunday worship. We dare not give up Sunday worship as a church. Without Sunday worship we would all stagger around the streets Sunday morning, shaking off hangovers and wearing dirty shirts.

I wonder if Sunday morning worship has not become an idol too big to succeed. I know a lot of folks will push back on me and I fully expect that. I am at a point n my faith that I am willing to let it all go. I am willing to let go of Sunday worship as a defining part of my Christianity.

Imagine a church that gathers as a flash mob in public and performs acts of celebration, mourning, joy, service, and organized for these events in our homes and in public space. We are transparent, welcoming, collaborative, diverse, and decentralized. It is everything the church seems to not be these days. But this idea will never work in a system that delivers highest praise to a static geography of Sunday worship.

Too many Millennials and Gen Xers work erratic schedules or are engaged in the community in other ways that demand their attention. The church has insisted that in order to belong to the Body one must at the very least show up on Sunday and a few other staggered events on the church grounds. When will the church, the gospel, the Christ be liberated in to the fluid moving of the Spirit we witness at Pentecost in Acts?

I am ready and willing to let go of the idol of Sunday worship. I am ready for a new truth, a truth that shall set me free. As one of my favorite artists Fritz Scholder famously said, It ain’t ugly if it’s the truth.” And the truth is, it’s time for a new beauty to arrive.

Unlock and Imagine a church

The Gospel is much like the art that Lucas creates. Lucas seeks to engage and transform the environment around him as he challenges, connects, explores, and comments on what he experiences.

Lucas calls us to view the world from a lens that is honest with what and how we experience security. The Gospel calls us to do the same. The Gospel calls us to witness the world around us with different eyes and in different ways. The Gospel does not physically transform the world at first glance. The Gospel moves us as it challenges, connects, explores, and comments on what we experience and how we manifest the creativity we are imbued with.

The Gospel demands we reframe the way we engage Pressure and Manipulation. Pressure is no longer a weapon but a source for transformation. It becomes a way to call attention to injustice and aid the Other. Manipulation ceases to bring guilt and shame to the world. Manipulation in the Gospel sense overs a truth and guidance through the murky waters of human sin.

Now imagine a faith community that challenges the way we live. It demands that we become aware of the choices that we make, seemingly unaware of the connectivity to which we already hold. This faith community connects us to the reality that is already present. The faith community nurses us to health by awakening us to that newness that is offered in relationship with the Christ, which connects us to the Creator.

This is the faith community to which I desire. I hunger for that place that unlocks mystery for the pleasure of being in the mystery. I want to be part of a faith community that connects me to those deep, meaningful moments that happen to us. I want to be part of a faith community that explores the beauty of creation that surrounds us. I want to be a part of a faith community that comments upon the injustice in action to secure justice for ALL. In this, I want to be a part of a faith community that transforms as it unlocks the responsibility I hold to you, to ALL as I am awakened to the deeper self, the Other.

I want to be a part of a faith community that places security in the hands of God and demands that I arrive as I am and loves me enough to not let me stay that way. This is my hope and pray for the PC(USA). The question becomes, can the Presbyterian Church (USA) let go of the fear and hold on to the hope that exists in beyond tradition, emergence, missional, and transformation? Let not our eyes focus upon the finger and miss out on all the heavenly glory.

Death is Art: The Church needs a mess of artists.

I have had a hunch for the last ten years or so that something has been going on in the church. I remember the early post Y2K era. I was spoon-feeding my faith on church hopping. I was on a mission to fins a church home.

I went to mega churches, house churches, mainline denominational churches, non-denominational churches, and once went to a Messianic Temple that meet in a strip mall. I went to a lot of churches.

I was like an addict searching for a fix. Only my drug was Jesus H. Christ. My gear included a well worn NIV Bible, a hunger for the Word, and some clouded ideas of a faith beyond my fading evangelical norms.

I wore costumes to these various churches. I took out all of my piercings and covered my tattoos with a new GAP button-down shirt and a pair of chinos the first time I went to the Presbyterian Church that eventually became my church home. I raided Barry Manilow’s closet as I sported a look to numerous churches in hopes to be accepted and loved.

I can say with the benefit of hindsight that I was accepted in most places. I would be greeted and introduced to who ever had some kind of connection to prison or recovery ministries. Unfortunately, for that person I was not in recovery or have I ever been to prison. I once saw a film about Naval Aviators but that does not make me a sailor.

My point is my physical presence somehow challenged the folks that were already there at the church. The church I ended up hanging my hat at loved me. The pastor did all they could to reach out to me and shepherd me to health. The congregation loved on me very much. I fondly remember them and the relationships I was blessed to forge.

There were some strange folks that had no idea how to engage me. It was no different than my real life strangeness that hung on my family tree. Not everyone can have a moped-riding cousin with a jacket that has elastic bands that hold a twelve-pack! We are just lucky like that.

This church was the first time as an adult I was able to engage in a healthy way the church as a family, with all its bumps and bruises. I still long for that church and those people where my faith was refined and I first awakened to this hunch I am talking about.

There was a sense of adventure and daring. This church was heavily invested in the youth around it. Youth played a heavy role in the life of the church. I would say that the congregation was entirely oriented around the youth that lived in the community and hung out at the church.

The budget reflected its commitment to the youth and to the future church. There was never a difficulty in finding volunteers to cook meals, chaperon events, or mentor the faith of the youth at the church. As part of the staff there I was supported well. I got affirmation and love t-from the oversight committee all the time.

I accepted this as the norm and expected that this is how the church must operate. If the church wanted to bear witness to the Kingdom of God it would need to stay serious about investing its resources to the youth. This was proven time and time again in my time there.

Then I became a missionary and went to seminary. I talked shop for a few years. I volunteered here and there. I even helped plant a church my senior year in seminary. I interned at a couple small rural churches in Central Oklahoma. I got exposed to realities that differed from my almost Pollyanna vision of the church I encountered in Los Angeles.

That hunch awakened and I realized I was not alone in that hunch. The church wanted me to be a leader. The church wanted “us” to come in, bring our friends, marry and have families, and take over the beautiful churches that they had built. There was only one problem, when we came we were not all that welcomed. Well, we were welcomed but we were not invited to be a part of the church as much as we were expected to come in and replace the aging cogs of church with our new, youthful, spirited cogs and do the work of the church.

When that happened we left. Not just laity but clergy has left. We do not have the energy to continue to serve two masters. We do not have the ability to work two full time jobs. We are being asked to maintain the church of yesterday as we plant the seeds, nurture the seeds, and harvest the seeds of tomorrow.

This does not describe all the churches out there. It does describe enough situations out there that I pray we as the church pays it mind. That hunch I have had for the last decade is real. The church is killing itself. The church has been slowly asphyxiating itself on the traditions of the past.

As we struggle and seek that answer to fix the decline of the mainline church we have forgot to invest in the leaders, the people of the church of tomorrow. I know there are programs that offer education and support to some that may equip them to do great ministry. I love these programs. I am not sure it is enough.

What would happen if we focused on digital first? What would happen if we focused all of our resources towards the next generation of faith?

We are operating out of fear of provision and serving a church that has little chance in reaching out in to the great digital divide. We focus on maintaining and supporting the systems we have in place. “If we do X we will lose donors.” I have bad news those donors will die and be lost and when they are who will stand in the gap?

My hunch is that the church that shall exist in the future will be small, socially active, intentional, intimate, low-cost, and have little overhead. I am sure there will be churches that will not look like this. I think there will always be a place for big ass churches. I am sure that new growth will not emerge until the old passes on and fertilizes the seeds they have planted. I pray the Reforming Church does not forget the Always Reforming part and death is part of that reforming.

So Long

I have spent the better part of a decade chasing my call to ministry. First with the Presbyterian Church (USA) where I was “under care” for three years. I wrestled to articulate my call within the particular understanding of what it means to be a minister. I did not fair well and could not clothe myself with the offered roles of Minister of Word and Sacrament. I departed to pursue social work.

When the social work did not pan out I found myself in minister as a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I discovered a loose collective of rebel rousing yahoos. They liked me and offered me a place at the table. I jumped through hoops, forged new ministries, and fought to offer another way to be “minister” to the world.

These efforts got me ordained after two years of service to a Disciples congregation and service to the church catholic. I had arrived; Jan 23, 2011 I got my stole. It was an amazing time. It marked a long journey for me. It was beautiful to have family, friends (old and new), mentors, admirers, and my partner there to witness the public proclamation of my call to serve the church as a Minister of Christian Witness.

I was very hopeful and encouraged by this event and by the world of possibilities that seemed to beacon me to dare to dream. The church was ready to embrace me and my crazy vision of what church is. The crazy vision of what church could be.

Then some stuff happened. I needed to find another church to serve. I put my profile “out there” to see if anyone would bite. I have been in the Call & Search process for over a year. I have not received any viable offers to use my gifts to serve the church. Having searched high and low my wife and I made a decision we moved. She received a call to serve a church in OKC.

I am an unemployed, rebel rousing, pastor of disaster, social justice warrior, advocate for equality, and lover of most. I have reframed and redefined my call to serve the church. I am certain that I am not done being the heart and hands of God. God has something in store for me.

I am certain that I am done with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I have pondered the dissolution of my relationship with the denomination that ordained me. I have called upon the counsel of the amazing colleagues I have gained from this denomination. I have prayed over it and discerned the voice of God. I think the silence of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) speaks the greatest volume in my choice.

Is there geography for me to serve in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)? It does not look that way. The last time I checked there is not one position listed on the national Search & Call system. We are fighting to be eligible to be listed in an ineffective system. A system that is at best a dog and pony show.

This past summer I was part of the “Missional” Learning Track at General Assembly in Nashville. We had a great time and had some wonderful conversations. I had some great connections made. I had a couple of interviews. I heard, “I love your ideas but I have no money.”  When will you get it?

Unless you let go of leadership and equip and bless the ministries of younger leaders you will have no legacy to protect. Our fear and obsession with maintaining the traditions and ideas of yesterday have sanitized the gospel we wield and act as a disinfectant to any creativity that might engage new light.

The bottom line is we are not dying, we are dead. There are exceptions to this in a few areas. Those exceptions either have a wealth of financial resources or a wealth of engaging leadership that equips and invests in developing new leaders.

I can no longer hope that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will get their act together. I am done investing in dead systems. I am captured by Luke 9:60, “Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” There are countless ministers that are willing and hoping to bury the dead and dying. It is not my call. I am called to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

I bid the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) farewell. I do not leave with anger. I depart with sorrow and longing in my heart. Thank you for the affirmation and the introduction to many wonderful people. I had hoped it would have turned out differently. I pray that God bless you and keep you and that the Holy Spirit inspire you to not fear death but get excited about the resurrection waiting for you.

Redemptive God, Preemptive God: That is the Question

I am hanging out with a good friend of mine. We are taking down tacos like we were Kobayashi. We are both ministers. We have both been introduced to the faith as adults. We both wrestle with living out our faith.

There we are sharing our stories and our heartaches in between tacos. I am sharing with him my frustrations of finding a place to serve in ministry. I have been searching for a call since early March 2011. Until this past October I had the safety of serving a church. I left that call to support my wife as she accepted a call to serve a church in Oklahoma City, OK.

I am angry. I am disappointed. I feel abandoned. I think God’s a dick. I am backing up my Liebherr and am dumping its emotional contents upon him. He is overwhelmed as a flood of emotions cascade in to his ears.

I shared this story of when I was an evangelical, I used to gather with folks and we would pray for physical provision. We would also give thanks and claim stuff in the name of Jesus. We would get together in a prayer circle and call out the desperate or not so desperate needs we were dealing with at the time.

It could be that nasty masturbation habit, taking a drink, the need for health, the hope for acceptance in to college or a new job; mine was financial provision. I was fine with my job. I wanted God to provide me with money to pay off my student loans so I could really serve. Not this halfass volunteering I was doing. I wanted to sellout to the Kingdom of God and go all in!

I shared this with the group for almost two years. When I departed for mission service and then seminary I held on to that prayer. I prayed it a thousand times. Yet, here I am in the same boat of financial debt. I have given God over a thousand opportunities to liberate me from debt. God has failed in doing so. God, therefore, is a dick.

I am unloading the misery of this story and the subsequent disappointment of the economic hardship that has befallen so many these days. I am certain that my choice to chase an ordained call to ministry has been a bad one.

Then my friend asks me, “Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I was taken aback by his question: Do I believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God? You have got to be joking? WTF are you talking about? This made me more awkward than Patton Oswalt in a (pseudo) romantic role opposite Charlize Theron.

Do I believe in a God that is actively working to prevent hardship from befalling me or those I pray (magically) for? Do I believe in a God that is taking the shit around me–this depravity gone wild–and loving it in to goodness?

The answer is obvious. I live my life expecting that God is in some divine prevent defense covering all of the depravity that might come my way. Yes! I believe in a preemptive God. I hold on to the dysfunction of my humanity–the frailty of my being–in my hopes of a preemptive God.

The problem with this is that holding on to a preemptive God has obscured the resurrected glory of a redemptive God. My eyes cannot see the resurrected, reclaimed, renewed vision of the redemptive God through the faded, tattered hope of the beaten down preemptive God.

I have very real financial debt. God must offer a way out. God does not call me to be burdened by debt and bound by this unjust system of lending. It’s in the cussing BIBLE!

“God protect me from the pain of emotion, God guide me in your ways,” has been a spiritual cover up. It is the foundation of the religious mask I have donned for the last fourteen years. The mask survived my transition from conservative, evangelical through spiritual, occultist to progressive, liberal Jesusish thingy.

I have been praying for God to strike while the irons hot. I called out for God to take this burden away from me that I might be liberated to do “real” ministry. Perhaps, God is not calling me to liberated “real” ministry.

The preemptive God is connected through provision. This God tirelessly responds to my pleas for help. Like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lassie looking out for that dangerous well for me. The preemptive God keeps us dependent on tradition, folk ritual, and half-truths as we beg and plead for this madness to stop. The preemptive God is devoid of the glory of this season and the arrival of that little eight-pound, six-ounce infant savior.

The redemptive God does not depart or hide. This God is intimately present. This God is source of “costly grace” of which Bonhoffer speaks of in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” The redemptive God is the root of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s “Preferential Option of the Poor”, explored in his book, “The God of Life.” The redemptive God is the stream from which Marcella Althaus-Reid’s “The Queer God” flows forth.

The redemptive God is what this nation requires. The redemptive God restores and reconciles that which is lost. The redemptive God takes what is meant for evil and makes good. The redemptive God delivers us into the belly of a whale and restores our call. The redemptive God takes us where we are and delivers us to where we might be. The redemptive God is those four folk lowering the paralytic through the roof towards restoration. “Their faith has made you well.”

We need the redemptive God to take what has been meant for ill and turn it on its ear for good. We need the redemptive God that does not destroy the community-building of shared hardship and loss. We need the redemptive God that draws the best of the worst to bear witness of the “not yet.”

The redemptive God arrived in a manger. The redemptive God clings to her mother’s breast. The redemptive God is fully human and fully divine. The redemptive God is here with us.

The redemptive God is mired in the same cussing junk in which we find ourselves in. The redemptive God borrowed money to attend college to earn a degree that does not guarantee him a job. The redemptive God has diabetes and no money or health care to pay for it.

The redemptive God is a scared teenage mom hiding the pregnancy from her parents. The redemptive God is the Occupy movement camped out in the streets and invading the halls and minds of justice. The redemptive God does not hide from woe.

“Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I believe in a preemptive God but I am trying really hard to believe in that redemptive God. Perhaps, this is what Thomas Merton is speaking of when he says, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” The redemptive God is pleased to have us stumble towards redemption in glee. Now that is some shit that preemptive God knows noting about, grace.