Raising Cain and Support

I consider myself a missionary to the Presbyterian Church (USA), to my neighborhood, and to my colleagues in ministry. Ever since I have sipped from the cup of mission as a YAV in 2004 I have been hooked.

I have represented my denomination at conferences and lead workshops on missions. I have attended a global gathering as a young adult in missions. I have studied missions in seminary and participated in a travel seminar to explore missions in various contexts. I even won the mission and evangelism award as a graduating senior at my seminary.

I am and have almost always been about mission, service, and exploring the Other. Being in relationship with others and learning in those relationships is important to me. I am exploring participation in the Presbyterian Peace Programs trip to the Philippines.

I am intrigued by the mission to go and experience, converse, and be with others as we listen to stories surrounding environmental devastation and human trafficking. These are both items I am interested in learning more about and that I have little awareness of. I need help.

I imagine connecting with sponsores that I could safely drive to and from out of Oklahoma City (where I currently live) and speak to and share my experiences and the stories that I might hear. I am open to skyping in to groups as well. I hope to fashion some sort of curiculaum to be used in group study in support base to raise awareness on the difficulties I am made aware of.

I would also seek to write about my experience here on my website and create a series of art pieces that could be used to raise awareness, fund projects (if needed), and contribute positively to equipping many for justice.

I am offering my art prints to you with a suggested donation of $30 per print. Please click here to select the print you want and email me your address. I will mail you the prints after I sign them.

I hope you’ll support me. I need to raise $3,500 by December 03, 2012. I am not certain I have been selected. If I am not selected to go than I shall return your money. If you have received a print and want to keep it I will donate the money you donated for me to one of the other participants that have been selected.

You may go here for more information.

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.

Three Things of the Church: Easy, Tradition, and Desperate

I was driving around my newly acquired home of Oklahoma City the other day admiring the landscape. It is dotted with what looks like 1960’s Soviet Era architecture. This is a lesson in urban sprawl. This somewhat flat landscape is littered with the beckoning lights of consumer America.

Corners filled with chain gas stations, chain pharmacies, chain fast food restaurants, and the occasional car dealer, all of them vying for your attention and the right to fill your needs. They tell you that you are going to be better if you consume their products. The signs of progress read, “2 for $2.99!”, “Value Menu”, and “Special!”

They drown out the competition with noise and promises of a making a better you or at least aiding you in the quest towards a better you. Theses national and international corporate giants strangle the local “mom and pop” stores. They leave behind in their wake a bland, tasteless message of uniformity and industrial ingenuity. They strip the creativity from our cities and our neighborhoods. Quite literally, they dumb down the required process to pictures and prefabbed projects that simply require someone to put A in to B.

The big box stores buy in a massive volume and take great care to offer the same experience regardless of your location. The fast food restaurants fight each other to offer you the cheapest meals possible with exciting names and a veiled effort to be more nutritious.

Upon the holy trinity of fat, sugar, and salt these restaurants draw you in with the offer of affordable meals and capture you in to a web of addiction. You get processed proportions of fat, sugar, and salt that allows you to function, if just barely. There is a hidden cost to these big box and fast foot endeavors. The consumer pays the hidden cost of any short cut.

I offer this not as a scathing critique of fast food and big box stores. I offer this as a parallel of the church and warning to the church. Be careful of stripping the creative force from your communities and taking short cuts. The consumer (disciple) pays the hidden cost of any short cut.

We are guilty of this big box, fast food plague. Over the last fifteen years I have witnessed local churches strip away the surrounding creativity and replace it with a purpose-driven, prosperity-laced, righteously-imbued processes of being church. In the process local identity vanished in hopes of attracting more people to consume our products.

We have slapped those cheep labels upon our communities that read, “Value Meal!”, “Confessing”, and “Open and Affirming.” We advertise an inferior product with an unholy trinity of Easy, Traditional, and Desperate. We seek to draw people in to this mess. We want to believe that Jesus the Christ is moving us to offer a product that we hope for, but do not consume ourselves. We are like the saboteur offering poisoned wine to our guests and pretending to drink as to cover our dastardly plans.

I do not accuse the church of being anything other than afraid. The church seems to be grasping at straws looking for an answer to this crisis of faith we have found ourselves in. We have forgotten the reason we are here any way. We are here to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

We glorify God in accordance to the Word of God. The Word of God informs, inspires, and enriches the life of those that chose to live a path that should glorify God. God is a, being a spirit, eternal, unchangeable, just, good, wise, truth, and beyond our full understanding. How are we to market this in this dying economy? Have we lost our sense of awe or subsistence upon grace?

In our efforts to stave off death we have become ineffective. We have replaced the resurrection with promises and hopes that death shall not visit us. We offer a steady diet of Easy, Traditional, and Desperate. When God is calling us to a diet of Discipleship, Community, and Death. We are to die to ourselves. The church dies and is reborn over and over again.

The church is not the same as it was over 2,000 years ago as the church is not the same as it was 500 years ago. The church changes. Those that live in to it transform it. The church dies and resurrects.

The problem is not that we die or that the church shall die. The difficulty lies in the resurrection. We shall surely die. We might have an affect upon that in accordance to the choices we make in this life. We surely do not have any effect upon how or to what we shall resurrect to. This is the fear of the church.

The church can only trust unto God that the resurrection of its hard work and dedication be what God needs it to be for the coming generations. God has a vision beyond our own. God is a being, a spirit, eternal, unchangeable, just, good, wise, truth, and beyond our full understanding. How can we die to ourselves and fertilize what is emerging from the good work that so many good people have offered before us? Will we drink of the cup to which we offer our guests?

The skinny

I am taking a break. I need to get some shit together. I am taking this opportunity to reflect on my future. I having been contemplating for sometime the actions of a fast paced, hyper world. I want to slow down and simplify my comings and goings.

I have not been able to sleep well for a long time. When I was in Indonesia I had no ready access to high speed internet, 500 channels of entertainment, or the numerous mind numbing activities that I have here. I must change something.

I have decided to remove as much energy consumption from my daily diet as I can. I hope to walk more, use public transport, eat less calories and locally. I am limiting my computer usage to checking email for a half an hour every other day and for use of paper writing.

With the free time I am seeking to begin a local ministry with some like minded folks. We want to start a clean needle exchange or clean needle kit ministry to addicts in the area. With the hope of forming relationships that will lead to recovery for all involved.

This is my prayer until the morning of the 23rd of March…

Mighty King Jesus, I retract in spirit with You into the desert; teach us how to fight the triple ambition of the flesh, pride, and materialism. You are the true Bread of Eternal Life, appease our hunger. Beloved Creator, open our hearts to the voice of Your Word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son who calls us to repentance and a change of heart. Renew our eagerness to work for you in building a better world, so that creation may hear your gospel of peace and justice and respond with humility, to love mercy, and to act justly.

In the transcending name of Christ, Jesus

Amen

see y’all on Easter.