Historical Trauma, Family Ritual Dysfunction, & Eating Disorders

indiansToday, biological families and families of necessity gather and give thanks for a diversity of things.  When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant a day spent driving between parents houses or their surrogate locations and heart-heavy phone calls where someone wished we could spend more time together.  I would fight the urge to eat my emotions in the State-sponsored cover-up of the historical trauma inflicted upon my people.  I have a complicated relationship with today. It’s a jumble of historical trauma, family ritual dysfunction, & eating disorders.

“Hey woman, today is the day when we Indians get to be served by the white man,” was something that my grandfather would poke my grandmother with on Thanksgiving.  My grandfather being full-bloodied Pawnee and my grandmother a white farmer’s daughter from Missouri.  He meant no harm in this.  It was his way to engage the hurt and trauma he experienced as a child and young man growing up in a nation that wanted what he had but did not want any part of him.

He was born in the early part of the 20th century to proud parents of noble heritage.  Before his 3rd birthday his mother would be dead and his father was grieving the loss could not care for his two small children.  My grandfather was taken from his father and placed in a system that actively worked to strip the indian out of the Indian.

In this boarding school he was privileged to be introduced to the white man’s ways.  He got a world-class education.  He played football.  He was beaten if he spoke his mother tongue.  His hair was cut short as a means to inhibit the savage within.  If they could have erased his red skin they would have done that also.

He was also isolated from his family.  He never saw his father again.  His sister was lost until he was 17 and able to track here down.  He was alone for the formative years.  All the while he was instructed to worship God, the father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Lost was Tirawa and the Morning Star.  Forgotten was the safety of home.  He had little to be thankful for, but he was alive and determined.

Meeting my grandmother and finding security and safety in a family of his own, he gave thanks.  He bought in to the trappings of traditional recipes of stuffed birds, dressing, and pies.  He loved food.  Food was very important to him.  He drank some but food was his escape.

It seemed as if all of the broken treaties, the beatings for speaking his mother tongue, and the racist fueled oppression was poured in to the art of BBQ’g.  He forgot how to express himself.  He learned that if he was to survive in the white man’s world he needed to hide the Indian.  Tight lipped he pretended he was not hurt.  He convinced himself that yesterday did not happen.  The longer this charade went on the more he hated himself.  Soon, no one could hate him as much as he did.  The externalized racism and persecution turned inward.  With that drinking and eating became the only escape he could muster.

In our family food was always prime.  We may have not had much of anything else.  We never missed a meal.  He passed that on to my father.  At the very least food was not ever to be missed.  Food became an award and treat.  For good or bad food was a companion.

All of my conversations with my father or brothers center around talk of food.  We do not say hello, “We ask what did you eat?”  We all are “big men.”  We all have difficulty with healthy processing of emotions.  We eat our emotions.  Happy or sad we do it with food.

Like is said, I have a complicated relationship with today.  I do not hate today.  I am not against Thanksgiving.  It’s just complicated for me.

Today I am thankful and enjoy the company of family and make those same heart-heavy phones calls.  I do wish I had more time with loved ones.  I do wish that the historical trauma behind the scene of cute little kids dressed as pilgrims and Indians was addressed.  I wish that people understood that appropriating Native tribal customs, healing practices, and lore is hurting the same Natives they admire or are infatuated with.

I want to be thankful for the understanding and acceptance that the same horrid actions and privilege behind blackface and other colonial holdovers is connected to the story of Native America.  This is highlighted in the on going struggle to get the Washington DC football team to change its racist name.  This is also present in the Atlanta and Cleveland baseball teams and in the Chicago hockey team.  It is acceptable for folks to appropriate and don characters of Natives to provide for humor, entertainment, affirmation, and support.  This will not change until Native America has allies and advocates that are diverse and committed.  We need folks that are as committed to peace, compassion, and justice as they are to winning a Super Bowl ring, a World Series, or Stanley Cup.

Until then this day is complicated for me.  I seek balance between my polarizing bloodlines, my need to eat and my eating disorder, and my soon-to-expand family and the families that are a part of me.  Maybe I am foolish and today will always be complicated.  Perhaps, I should settle for two out of three to be figured out.  Hell, I’d settle for one of the three to be done away with.

But to be clear, it is never ok for non-Native people to wear “Indian cloths.”

Big guy and donuts

I was 14 years old.  I lived in Los Angeles.  I had to attend summer school.  I am not sure if it was mandatory or obligatory.  I think it was my father’s way of keeping me out of trouble.

That summer I attended summer school and then rode my bike to the high school I would attend in order to participate in conditioning drills to prepare my 14-year-old body for the competitive rigors of high school football.

I was tall and still carried baby fat on my hormone exploding body.  I wore my hair in a neatly coiffed flattop.  I sported a tan.  I was a willing and eager participant in whatever I had to do to please my father.

For as long as I can remember it was my dream to play on the offensive line of the University of Southern California.  A dream also shared (perhaps seeded) by my father.  There was no greater glory than a W for ol’ SC.  Weekend rituals revolved around cheering on this West Coast Ivy League School in the middle of poverty.

I would bask in the joy and pleasure of my father’s ritual of adoration in hopes of gleaning a bit of attention.  If SC won perhaps I would receive some affection.  If SC lost I still may get the attention but it was certainly not all that joyful.

I was a slight, even skinny child in my early years.  It was not until I was 12 that I got “big.”  In one summer I grew a few inches and put on about 30 pounds.  I became a “big guy” and the world was never the same.

The funny thing about being a big guy is that your heart and soul doesn’t always grow along with your body.  I most certainly wore my heart on my sleeve and became a target for abuse because of it.  Football was a place of intense masculinity.  There was no room for wimps, pussies, or f-gs.  Football was American and a place where men became men as we manned up to play this tradition-filled game.

The first few weeks of conditioning destroyed me.  I was almost brought to tears on several occasions. I would have never cried and given them that satisfaction.  I held the hurt in.  I ran harder.  I lifted heavier.  I let my anger stew and diligently worked on become a jock.

football grandpaIn the process of this I worked so hard on the field that I puked almost daily.  With unfettered pride I abstained from water breaks.  I took on the ledged of Lott, Youngblood, Singletary, Otto, Webster, Lambert, and Butkus.  I admired the manliness of these fellas.  I aspired to be like them.  Pain was weakness leaving the body.  Concussions were not even on the radar.  We were little men getting trained to become “real” men.

I endured weeks of punishment.  I was not vocal like others.  I was still feeling this whole thing out.  I was isolated, guarded, and very unsure of myself.  I was still sensitive and was not responding to the aggression and tough love like other teammates were.  We were encouraged to get angry and fight each other on the field of battle.  War language delivered us to frenzy.  The longer this went on, the further I withdrew from it all.

I wrestled with the insidious nature of violence in the game.  I lacked a killer instinct that others had.  The coaches sought to fire me up by grabbing my facemask and yelling/spiting into it until they were satisfied that I heard what it was they wanted me to hear.  When that did not sufficiently inspire me I would get a clipboard broken across my helmet and yelled at.  As a last resort the coach would smack the ear holes on my helmet and stun me as he viciously shook my mask to make his point.

The violence and machismo did not stop there.  The players self-regulated each other.  A more accurate description was that hazing happened.  I eagerly took part in this.  I heard from old teammates, “This is what happened to me.  It made me part of the team.”  So, I endured the harassment.  Name calling.  The binge drinking at parties.  The public humiliation.  Then there was the “taking of donuts.”  This was simulated rape.  If you were lucky you were fully clothed when a group of teammates ascended upon you to simulate a sexual assault in public.  You could be in line waiting for lunch and be attacked.  You could be waiting for a ride home.  You could be on your way to class.  Your teammates would corner you and laugh as they passed you around and simulated having their way with you.  Many of them joining in, in the hopes that they would avoid having their donuts taking or exacting revenge for having their donut taken.

It was worse if you were in the locker room showering or trying to change.  This could happen to you whilst you where naked.  This particular action was most feared.  It was the kind of fear that is conjured up when thinking about being raped in prison.  The younger teammates were always on watch of this attack in the locker room.  This egregious endeavor was reserved for those deemed easy marks.  Those that were deemed to be wimps, pussies, or f-gs got the worst of it.  We learned to be tough and to keep our heads on the swivel.

It took me weeks after my donut was taken in line at lunch to build the courage up to quit.  I could no longer endure the harassment.  I was not willing to be macho according to their standards.  I went to the coach to quit and he refused to listen.

“You got a lot of talent and a big body.  Don’t you want to play in college or the pros one day?”

I guess, I said.

“Have you talked to your father? What does he think about having a quitter as a son?”football pop

I hung my head in shame and agreed to talk to my father before I quit.  That night I tried to talk to him and he gave me more of the same shame and regret line that the coach gave me.  It ended with me agreeing to stay on for the rest of the year and fulfill my obligation to the team.

I am thankful that the coach did not tell the team I had wanted to quit.  That would have exasperated everything.  I endured the inspiring techniques of the coaching staff.  The name calling.  The macho shaming.  My soul died inside.  I became depressed.  I could not quit.  The game I had once loved no longer brought me joy.  The big body I was blessed with was a prison of performance in a sport I no longer cared about.

I sought a way out.  My first thought was to get injured.  If I was injured I did not have to play and could bow out gracefully with all the honors of a fallen comrade.  So, during practice I tried to break a leg or something.  I once dipped my head to get a defender to hit my neck that I might be injured and not ever able to play again.

I slowly fell deeper in to depression.  Then I found my answer in an unrequited high school love.  When our little romance went sour, my grades suffered and I became academically ineligible to play.  The label of dummy was far easier to wear then the label of quitter.

football ryanI read about this unfolding incident between Jonathan Martin and Ritchie Incognito I am not surprised or shocked.  The behavior exhibited by Incognito and endured by Martin is a staple of professional football on down to the high school level.

I do not have much faith in the NFL and other organizations that support and affirm the sport of football in moving to change.  Football is no longer a sport as much as it is a business.  If tolerance and an affirmation of diversity in expression, orientation, disposition, ethnicity, or other differing human characteristics is to be received in football there needs to be big and dramatic shifts in the culture of masculinity that pervades the business-sport.  If the NFL wants to clean up the league in light of the actions of Incognito then they ought to begin with changing the Washington DC football team name.  Then the business of football needs to be done with the understanding that the human cost is real and that the facade of masculinity is damaging some as it gives legal geography for sociopaths and hurting people to victimize others.  The fans watching and supporting their teams need to support the change.  They need to demand the same kind of dignity in their lives and employers, corporations, governments, neighbors, and citizens all need to value the dignity and humanity of each other.  If we want change beyond names and to end the exploitative systems that gnaw at the root of this Nation we need to embrace the fullness of humanity in us all.

I learned to harass, bully, and rib others.  It was not something I was born with.  Change is possible.  I hope we are serious about it.

Anger. Hostility towards the Opposition.

Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Board of Pensions, my current denomination, released a plan to change the current medical coverage plan in a radical manner.

 

I have to disclose something’s for you first. I am not officially a member of clergy of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church that merged to become the Presbyterian Church (USA) on November 02, 1975. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church for a good part of my youth. I joined a Presbyterian Church in 2002 and was under care at that church until 2008 as I attended and finished seminary.

 

I left the Presbyterian Church to serve a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation, where I was licensed and ordained to ministry. [Why I left the PC (USA)] After three years of service in the DOC [Why I left the DOC, for real.] I left to follow my PC (USA) ordained wife to her first call. During those three years out of the PC (USA) I still maintained my connections with the PC (USA) and continued to serve her through the Young Adult Volunteer program as a mentor, small group leader, and friend. I also contributed to many discussions in and around the future of the church.

 

I have invested in the future of the PC (USA) with all my heart, all my might, and all my soul. I currently serve a Presbyterian Church (USA) as a designated part time pulpit supply. In this call I am contracted for ten hours a week and have no benefits. I agreed to this role because my wife has benefits from her full time ministry position at her church.

 

As long as I serve this Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in the manner in which I do now I will not qualify for benefits. This is not a matter of me transferring my ordination over to the Presbyterian Church (USA). I am prayerfully considering transferring my ordination to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Even if I did transfer my ordination to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and served this congregation as I do now for the next seven years I get no credit for serving it in the pension plan. I also get no medical coverage.

 

My congregation in the only African-American Presbyterian (USA) Church in Oklahoma, we do not have a very large budget. I took this call knowing that they are offering me as much as they can. If they had more they would offer it to me. I know we struggle to maintain and fashion a budget of faithful action in out community.

 

I feel guilty writing this post, as the neighborhood directly surrounding our church is one of the unhealthiest zip codes in America. There is plenty to be done around access to medical care here. I write this to share with you who are managing the Board of Pensions and its future. This is how your proposed plan will affect my wife and I.

 

We as a couple are currently over $100,000 in debt to student loans, with 70% of this due to the cost of seminary. My wife is a full time pastor and the primary wage earner in our family.

Earlier this year (2012) I injured my shoulder and sought treatment through our health insurance. I stopped going to doctors’ appointments and other medical appointments due to the high cost of them. We could not afford the co-pays and co-insurances of the existing plan.

 

I was unemployed for over six months and was underemployed for three months prior to being relived by attending another graduate school to be retrained for a career in which I might make a living, outside of ministry.

 

The proposed changes you offer would burden us with an additional 45% of dependent cost of medical coverage, in addition to any additional dues my wife’s congregation cannot or will not cover.

 

We have put of starting a family for a few years now and in light of these proposed changes I cannot imagine us starting a family would be assisted by remaining a part of your proposed system. If we started a family under your proposition we would incur a great inability to meet the fragile limits of our current budget. In other words, this proposed change will have a deep and profound impact on our ability to be well and to lead others to physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

 

You are certainly making it harder for me to find value in being in communion with the Presbyterian Church (USA). You speak of the need to youth in the church and for new, innovative ideas and then you burden us with student debt, high medical coverage, and churches in which we are blamed for the lack of growth.

 

I pray for us all. Something has to give. In my prayers I ask for God to kill this system and replace it with one of justice. One in which humanity and care is given precedence for all. I pray that we take this moment in time to act like Christians and advocate for medical coverage for all in this Nation. I pray that we advocate for living wages for all. If we managed to advocate for healthcare and living wages for all my work may be done at my congregation. Here is a moment for the church, for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be leaders again and do something this world gives a shit about.

 

I would be willing to pay more and do more if it meant that the Kingdom of God was visible in what we do in this world. I would sacrifice and die for a better world. A world that puts its weapons down and has compassion to others. I began this with a worry and concern about how this proposed action who effect my wife and I. I end with the effects this will have on our ability to be light in this world and what that will do to the soul of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Hot or old, there is no room for lukewarm in the eyes of God.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I made a Deal

In my last semester in seminary I took this class with a professor that I had always admired but had not had the opportunity to take a class with. I jumped at the chance. It was a class on “Spirituality for Church Leaders.”

It was full of writing spiritual reflections, finding spirituality in ones life, and studying the spiritual disciplines of others throughout history. I loved this class. It came at a very opportune time for me. I was nearing the end of my seminary career. It had been over two years of study and ass dragging for me. I had pondered and pined over what I was going to do with myself in a few months.

I had entered seminary with little regard or thought as to what I was going to do when I was done. I just trusted God was going to do something. I was surrounded by colleagues that were applying to calls all over the States or looking to go further in studies, all of them with a plan, hopes or dreams.

I had little more than a firm plan. I was told I could not enter ministry as I was or as I saw ministry. There was not a place for me in the traditional sense to minister to the church. I was encouraged to forge my way in new ways. To make a path in to the margins and do Gods work there.

I was not too sad about this. I could talk myself in to a traditional call. I certainly loved the idea of pension, benefits, and a steady paycheck. I would read CIF’s (Church Profiles) and not be excited by them. I would look at “other church” jobs and not be excited by them either. No one seemed to what to do ministry the way I hoped too.

I applied to social work school and decided to no longer seek a call in ministry. I got accepted to a few schools and my partner and I moved to Louisville, KY so I could attend social work school. Things did not work out as planned and I could not attend grad school. I was looking again at what to do.

I applied to over 35 jobs and was unemployed for the first four months of my marriage. We were broke, living very near the edge, and our student loans were due. Then God called me to ministry. God called me to minister in another denomination. I received a call right before my wife and I were seriously considering moving back to Texas with family.

That’s how I got ordained. That’s how I went in to ministry. Not real thought out. Not a lot of flash. A sort of “Paul off to Damascus sort of thing.” It is nothing new to me. I got saved in a “Paul on his way to Damascus sort of thing” way. My life vacillates between wild extremes.

There is this scene in Robert Duval’s film “The Apostle” where Sonny (Duval) is arguing with God. He’s up in his mama’s house after finding out that his wife is having an affair and his beloved congregation has voted to remove him as their pastor.  Sonny is up there negotiating with God. “Lord I gave you my life. You saved me when I was a little boy. Now, you’ve taken my wife. You’ve taken my church. Either you restore me! Or you give me peace.”

Sonny is agitated, angry, and nervous. Sonny is all over the place. He is begging God for peace in the same breath he proclaims his love for God and that he is still angry at God. Sonny is a wet hot mess.

Here I am today. After a three-year stint in vocational ministry I have been ordained. I am invested in a denomination and lovingly connected to another. I am faced with many choices but few options.

As it stands there is little opportunity for myself to serve in a vocational ministry that will pay me a living wage. I am not alone. I know many ministers in similar circumstances. If they are not there now many are headed that way.

I have been angry. I have wept, mourned, and donned the sackcloth and ashes. I have cursed the day I was born and cursed the church in general. I have told God to kiss my ass. I have lashed out at those that love me. I have tried to forget, heal, and ignore.

You see I made a deal with God. It reminds me of a deal an old professor made with God. You see this professor has difficulty walking. I am not sure what asserted itself upon them to enable them to be reliant to a mobile scooter but they are. This professor shared a story with us in that class the last semester of my seminary career.

They shared that when their son was ill, severely ill and in danger of losing his ability to walk. They yelled at God and argued with God. “I suffer in this condition. I suffer silently to your glory. I do this so that he (their son) does not have to suffer. I suffer for you so he does not have to suffer.” It was a powerful moment in my life.

It reminded me of my deal with God. The one in which I gave God my life in service and I would be cared for. The deal in which I gave up all to follow. It was my “pearl of great price” moment. I literally sold all I had and followed God.

I needed an undergraduate degree to go to seminary. I quit my decent paying job with ladder climbing hope and went back to school. I liquidated my retirement plan to pay for the first year I spent catching up on credits to take classes that could get me a degree.

When all that ran out I argued with God. I begged for answers, for hope. I had to give up my apartment. I had to move in with my mom and help her out. I wrestled with God on the way to and on the way from class. I argued with God on my way to youth group and on the way back from youth group.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with God. I love God. I hate God. It almost seems like the same emotion to me. The difference being the physical provision that hangs around.

I am in another spell of loving and hating God. I want to trust God. I want to trust those that comprise the church. I want that deal kept. I give my life over to God in service and God cares for me.

I am in my mom’s house arguing with God. If I can’t get restored, then I want peace. If I can’t get peace than I am not sure what…

WTF Tom Tancredo?!?

This jackass is a political terrorist. He is breeding fear to seek trust and support.

This is what is wrong with America. Who owns the truth. If we do not support “them” then we are against “them”.

What the fuck would Jesus say about the use of shit like this to guide and lead? Where is the reconciliation? Where is the grace? Where is the transformation? Where is Jesus?