Three Brothers [Kenya 2005]

I was a missionary in Kenya in 2004-2005. I was assigned to Church World Service, East Africa to take photographes, write human interest stories, and help with report writing. This photograph was taken at a primary school in Nairobi that butted up against a landfill.

There was some really big programme kick-off and all kinds of politic big whigs were to be there. I went to take photos for CWSEA. We have a programme that sought to mitigate violence and war by protecting schools and involving the community to invest in the protection of the schools.

As I was taking pictures the tall boy in this photo asked me to take a picture. When I set the camera on him he motioned over to the other two boys to come in to frame. The other children in the yard were kept at bay with glaring looks of promised whoopings.

Through an interpreter I found out that these three boys had come from Sudan and were living in a slum near the school. A local agency sponsored them to attend school. This was the first time the three had a photo of themselves. I promised to return with a copy for each of them.

I left the school and came back in the next few weeks to give the boys the photos. I could not find them and no one at the school could tell me what had happened to them. I often look at this photo and pray for them.

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.

Shocked & Awed!

Yesterday was not a crazy day at all. I ran 9 miles in preparation for this Sunday’s race. I felt really good about it. I could have run another 4 miles, so I am feeling confident. I am practicing the Zen Meditation and am really enjoying it.

The day has been a welcome relief from the crazy that seems to have inhabited the last 6 months. I have been pummeled with “bad news” one after the other. It has been a learning period like no other that I have had in my life.

I have been reframed, refashioned, and renewed. It is been tough but I am thankful for the renewing of my mind and the reboot to my body. I have had a lot of time to devote to my self and the healing, processing, and reflecting I have not had time to do in my life.

I have grown. I have changed. I have reclaimed much of what I discovered about myself while in Kenya. I have awakened a deep spirituality inside me. I have mourned. I have celebrated. In it all I have been.

All of this makes yesterday all the more awe-inspiring. I was centering myself to attend my first church meeting with Trinity PC (the call I start on May 01). Then around 4:00 PM I checked my email to see if I got anything from the church and noticed an email from OU.

I opened the email and read it. I read it again. I asked Mere to read it again. I asked her what she read. She said, “Well, it says you got in.” It said I got in to the University of Oklahoma’s  Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. I got in to the school I had hoped for.

I was admitted to the part-time class. It’ll take me 3 years rather than 2 to finish this degree. I am floored. I am in awe. I am shocked. I cannot believe it. I wanted to pray about it and sleep on it before I said anything.

I am thankful for this. I am not sure how we will pay for it but I am sure God will forge some way. We have been at this together for some time now. I appreciate the journey you all have been on with me. I am thankful for the kind words, the prayers, the encouragement, the affirmation, the ass kicks, and the love you all have showered me with these last 6 months particularly.

Dawn has broken and the sun is shining after the rain storms. The birds are singing. The cats on the prowl. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God.

I’m wondering how it feels for you?

One of my favorite movies is “Once.” Even better is its soundtrack. I have listened to this album countless times. I am always moved by its beauty and hunger in the midst of complex emotions.

I would like to think I am a person comprised of complex emotions and a dynamic zeal for life. I would also like to imagine myself as a debonair, game playing sort of fella but that is utter fantasy.

I am who I am. I am not surprised that my heart visits the song “Say It To Me Now” again and again. I have been very stressed out these last few months. I am entering my fifth month of unemployment. Being unemployed has forced me in to conversations and realities that have been very difficult. I have had to fully redefine who and what I am in light of this call upon my life.

The very fabric I fashioned my masculinity from has been torn and the role I have been trained in since birth, the provider, has fallen away. The adopted and learned roles of spiritual director and minister have faced uncertainty at best and have encountered indigestible doubt at worst.

I listened to the words to this song again,

Scratching at the surface now
And I’m trying hard to work it out
And so much has gone misunderstood
This mystery only leads to doubt
And I’m looking for a sign
In this dark uneasy time

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

And I’m not trying to pass the buck
I’m just trying to get a better look
And I’m wondering how it feels for you
Now that the shoe is on the other foot
And I didn’t understand
When you reached down to take my hand

And if you have something to say
You’d better say it now

Cause this is what you’ve waited for
A chance to even up the score
And as these shadows fall on me now
I will somehow
Cause I’m clearing up this wreckage Lord
And there’s more than you’ve ever seen before

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

 

I have found myself bartering with God. If you do/allow/give/provide X I will do/not do/be better at Y. Come on God you got to give a little to get a little. And God knows I have little to give. The days following my departure from my last call were some of the darkest days of my life.

I read, “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross, to compare notes and hopeful awaken from my torment. It did not help me. I was an inconsolable mess. I made plans. I schemed. Nothing I tried offered relief from the crisis of the soul I was in.

I joked about it. I did all I could do but embrace it. I begged God for a way out, a way forward. I got nothing for months. I worked out. I have spent an average of 10-15 hours a week at the gym.

I tried volunteering with limited success. I wrote a little. I created a lot of art. I still asked God for answers.

With hope on the horizon I pray that whatever God is going to say that it be said now. I am beyond weary. I am beyond begging. I am beyond doubt. I am not sure I have any more depth to travel with or on. I dare not give up God. What would I be left with but a fool’s prize?

I love the ending of “Once” because it is a hard and real ending to a complex human problem. There is no neat, nice bow to wrap up the story. Some times life is suffering and the momentary glimpses of grace and love are worth it. Some time those momentary glimpses of grace fuel that insatiable appetite for more and we are never satisfied.

If I have learned anything in this process it would be that life is not a road map to be traveled in strict guidelines. Some days you will need to follow the map, some days you will be better to go off the map and travel by sight, and some days your vehicle will break down or the road you want to travel will be closed and there will always be a detour offered.

It may be time for me to accept the detour and be ok with the human condition that prompts the human ending.

Death Wears a Faith Colored Hat

This Thursday many faithful Christians will be solemnly pondering their hearts and seeking a deeper connection with God through various Penitential ways. Some will give up meat, chocolate, masturbation, sex, alcohol, sugar, or any other slightly fun or addictive habit they have brought in to Lent. All of us seeking a new start. All of us hoping to be drawn nearer unto our Beloved Creator.

The day following Ash Wednesday is especially somber. Many of us have a grand hope, a dream to be better when Easter morning arrives than we are when Lent begins. It is our “Alt+Ctr+Del” that resets us and renews our life. It is that spiritual “spring break” in which we let our religious freak flag fly and conjure up a way forward that celebrates the hope we have deep inside to embrace the teachings of our childhoods and perhaps witness a miracle and be made well.

This year Ash Wednesday holds a different meaning for me. Ash Wednesday marks the four-month anniversary of my departure from ministry. A departure that has been far more destructive to my being than I had ever imagined it could be.

Four months ago I left my job as a minister at a church. I left with the hope and promise of collecting myself and enjoying a sabbatical. An opportunity for me to be still and hear what God was calling me to next. In all honesty, I was holding on with dear life to that call.

I was burned out when I left and had been for close to a year. The idea of leaving the church, leaving ministry was what kept me going. I desperately wanted to escape the self-selected prison of tradition, expectation, miscommunication, and hopelessness that I found myself in.

I wanted to do right by those people that took a chance on me and called me to lead them to the vision of a church outside of the traditional model and in to something that got dirty with the people as it lived an inclusive theology. I got burned. My departure from this community, which I served, was stained with the breaking of my trust. This further inspired anger in me. I was burned out. Banished. Alone. I had no idea. I had no hope. I was in Sheol.

In these four months I have contemplated many things. I have sat under my tree daring God to strike me dead and cursing the day I was born. I have experienced the deepest despair that I have ever known. I visited with God in my “dark night.” I have witnessed beauty. I have smiled and laughed. I have smiled and cried. I have sought God through it all.

God has been silent. God has been vocal. God has been invisible. God had been visible. God has been with me, sitting next to me listening to my pleas. God has held me, mourned with me, and wiped the tears from my cheeks. I have not doubted Gods presence as much as I have begged and pleaded for God to deliver me from this place. I have offered to trade and barter what I have left in order to entice God to reveal these waiting secrets to me.

This Thursday will be 123 days since I left ministry. 123 days of weeping and mourning. 123 days of reframing my understanding of call. 123 days of hoping for hope. 123 days of searching for peace. 123 days praying for eyes to see. 123 days waiting for a sign.

I am not sure if I will ever return to ministry. “They” say that there are fewer and fewer pulpits to fill. I believe this to be true. I wonder if I ever was called to fill a pulpit. Not all ministers are called to a pulpit.

I am hoping that with Ash Wednesday that I might renew my hopes. That God might not forget me. That I may find the courage, strength, and endurance to wait on God. I am not patient by nature.

I trust that God has a blessing for me. I just need to hold on for that blessing. I pray that this Lent I let go of my bitterness, my anger. At the very least I pray that the bitterness depart and that anger get a tinge of righteousness. That I am moved in my righteous anger to act, to serve where ever that might be.

I am weary and weak. I am in need of an extra portion. I can no longer function away from the wellspring of truth. I am in need of that healing balm from that forgotten land.

This Lent I pray that I might give up control of me and trust God to tend to my soul. I pray for death this Lenten season. I want to die to myself. I want to die to you. I want to let go of the image and status I hold in being a minister. I want to embrace the sackcloth and ashes and don the mourner’s cloak. I want to be better when Easter comes. I want to heal from these wounds, so I can dance in the streets at the joyful arrival of the gift of Jesus the Christ.

123 days will have passed, bringing me closer to death. 123 days of hardships and pain. 123 days of joys and smiles. 123 days preparing me for Thursday. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise Thursday is coming and with it I pray death it shall bring.

The Peace of Wild Things [Wendell Berry]

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I am learning to rest in the grace amongst wild things.

God fill my belly with the bread of life.

Open my eyes to your will.

Fill my heart with your compassion.

Inspire my mind with your wisdom.

Give me the courage to pray for others.

May I no longer fear touching the other.

Come. Come fill our hearts with the peace of wild things.

In the name of Jesus, who is the bearer of all proximity.

AMEN

We don’t need no…

There is this movie “Maxed Out”. It is about the current and growing problem of debt in America. It turns out that the American dream includes debt so great that one losses hope.

Thursday Senate passed a package of tax breaks and other steps designed to help businesses and homeowners weather the housing crisis. The problem is that this is largely a break for builders and folks that prey on foreclosing properties. This bill will not help the average person faced with the loss of their home.

So the Senate gets together to pass legislation that protects the nation from this impending recession. Only it shields the rich and deepens the poor. Seriously folks, WTF?

When will the average person get a break? Where is the middle class we so proudly honor once a year? Where are our inaliable rights to exist and shed this oppressive cog-like machine we call a country?

The tyranny knows no color. You just have to have green. What does this say about the church?

We at the PC (USA) are in the midst of a slow death rattle with sparks of hope. I do not think that we are unique to any religious organization in America. We all are in hard times.

I write this at the end of a three year long journey into ministry. I am faced with a financial reality that hurts beyond words. Looking into the eyes of someone you love and hearing, “it will take 35 years to pay off your loans”, hurts. It hurts deeply. It shakes the Sovereignty of God in ones life. It clouds all sense of right, wrong, just, and unjust action. This kind of hurt reveals “the face of the other”.

I have witnessed oppression. I have been a part of oppression. I have been oppressed.

I ponder the emotional state of our nation as we beg, plead, and barrow our way into the American dream. What have we given up for these conveniences? With a sad heart I urn for yesterday when America was truly hopeful.

We are surrounded with dreams, wishes, hopes, and imagination. In this sordid world can these dreams exist?

Where is the hope for the young couple that scrimped and saved to buy a modest house? They are a success story of the American dream. They are now being removed from their dream with no place to go. They will be marked for financial ruin. Where is their hope?

Can the church bloated with bull shit polity and self indulgent dialog reach out and walk with them? They could and they should, but will they?

What will we say against this continued plight? Who will speak for “them”? I am tired of the lame ass excuses for us not living into who Christ has called us to be. If we really believed what the gospel said we would dissolve every asset this denomination has and give it to the poor. Now we want to argue over who gets to hold on to power.

I have never want Jesus to come back more than I want Jesus to return today. I ache right now. I have a deep and seething anger for what we are letting this community become. We are cogs in a machine. We are not far away from that shite in The Matrix.

So I ponder how my life became so devalued and where is this freedom that I have studied here in seminary. For all the beauty and grace available in Jesus Christ it will not pat down my loans. It will not save those folks homes from foreclosure. It will not cease those bill collectors’ calls. It will most certainly not save this nation from destroying itself. Where is the sovereignty of God in this?

What do we do? How does the church seek to reconcile the current realities of poverty, brokenness, debt, and consumption with the gospel message? We must seriously contend with this matter. We have to pull our heads from the sand and march in protest, and shout out against the financial slavery that exists in this country.

You are not a machine. You are not a number. You are fearfully and wonderfully made…

God move in this place of hurt. Be present in the hearts of the afflicted. Provide for us now in our time of need that which is needed. Erase the excess of our want. Open our hearts to others. Let us burden our lives with the community of sorrow. Grant us peace and clarity to move in rebellion of the broken ways of this world. Let us be freed from the captive mentality. Liberate our minds. Bind us together in you. In Jesus’ fetter breaking name. Amen

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.

My prayer this wee morning

God or whom/what I am compelled to cry out for. I need relief from this wrestling match. I try to accept and only fight harder. I think I am cool only to discover my Fonzie is not cutting it. Please forgive me of all the wicked and terrible shit I do and think to do, and think to do and covet to think. I am sweating and seeking peace and calm. Thoughts of you and visions of death terrify me. I am restless and yearning…sometimes I do not care what is next. I just want to tend to today, right now.
I want to be good. I want to please you. I want to be a fundamental, righteous, progressive justice seeking man that loves women and fights for gay rights. I want to be a good steward with what you have given me. I am hungry for truth and desperate for answers that I am sure will not come this night.
So I ask for peace and calm to get through this evening and perhaps the blessing of a new day. I pray for strength to write these last few pages well. I ask for the courage to answer the call on my life. I pray for humility and confidence that I will not and can not fuck shit up that you bless me with. I pray for faith. I pray that you help me with my unbelief. I pray that if I am called to ministry that you bless me with enough grace to minister each day to those you bless me with to walk along side of.

God, Allah, YHWH, Bondyè, Vishnu, Brahman All that is Creative, All that is mysterious, The Name above All Names, the Joy that remains in sorrow, and the salvation to which I am thankful hear me tonight…bless me, here I am.
AMEN

I could not sleep last night…

I wrestled all night with the situation that happened in Colorado. Prior to going to sleep I spent an hour or more reading the post from Matthew Murry. The pain and hurt this young man held inside is haunting me.

I think this is because some of his critique is valid. If you wade through the words and pain this young man wanted to find a place to explore his spirituality. According to him he was raised in a regimented life of an evangelical family. His mother was given a prophecy that her son (Matthew) was going to be a great prophet (something like John the Baptist). He was ridden with this pressure his entire life.

I am not condoning his actions at all. I have be lamenting the seemingly common hurt and distance that I witness in many young folks that have kept them away from the church.

Matthew describes his time with the mission organization with an “me vs. them” attitude. This is also prevalent throughout his rants. It scares me here…I feel the pressure of belonging and the cultishness of being perfect and that I will never get any respect unless I am beautiful, thin, pretty, handsome, and cool. It burns a bitter coal in my heart. I have never thought to react in violence. This is where Matthew and I diverge.

My heart goes out to all involved in this tragedy. It sucks all around. It has weighed heavy on my heart. I do not know anyone personally that was involved. It has captivated me. It has gotten me wondering about how the church can respond to folks like Matthew. Is there a place for kids that are aloof, isolated, and angry?

I imagine that Matthew will not be the only hurting evangelical kids out there. The responsibility one must shoulder to maintain ones salvation in this system is tremendous. I personally still wrestle with sins that I may or may not be forgiven of. It is like walking of egg shells every moment of everyday of your life. It is not healthy.

This has lead me to a couple of questions. I am wondering how the “church” can respond to the youth that is growing up in a pluralistic religious culture with love, acceptance, relevancy, and honesty. What does a ministry of service and mission look like in this context?

My prayer for today…

Beloved God,
Only you understand what is going on in this world. Truth is found in you. I pray you bless us this day with peace and the heart to love each other as you love us. Let us leave the judging heart at the gate of your Kingdom. Grant us the courage to be your people in spite of our fears, insecurities, bitterness, greed, and hate. Forgive us for the things we do in your name and for the things we do not do for your name. Give us strength to be. In the name of Jesus the Christ we ask these things radiate from all of your creation. Amen