Heart of Glass

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Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to Abba.  Having loved those who were in the world, this love was present to the end.  The devil had already set upon the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him.  And during supper Jesus, knowing that Abba had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:1-17, 31b-35

There was a time in my life in which I was a young and promising church leader. I was connected to many people and conversations about where, what, and how the church would prosper in the future. I was desperately intent on saving the church or at the very least I wanted to preserve a small space for me in it.

While in this role I read many pieces about worship, mission focus, and theological application. I advocated for what I believed to be helpful in nurturing church and holding church leadership and systems accountable. I was right in some but mostly I was passionately misguided. I was part of some really interesting projects that may or may not have led to goodness, healthy, and positive change in the church. I do know that I was really intent upon being a part of something that was righteous, caring, compassionate, and sought to be like Christ in the world. I imagine we could have numerous conversations regarding the effectiveness of these endeavors and we would discover a varying degree of success as often as we could find folks that affirmed or opposed what I did.

I have been out of church leadership for almost six years now. Not being in leadership has been a painful process. Becoming a church leader was a process that utterly transformed me. Not being a church leader was a process that utterly destroyed me. Pain and suffering are no longer strangers nor are they the defining factors of my life. I have found new life.

I still read those articles on worship, church growth, and mission. I have a different lens I read these with these days. I am a social worker. I am a co-occurring therapist that works in community mental health. When I first began this role I placed my ordination certificate and seminary degree on my wall alongside my Master of Social Work degree. I was not ready to let go of the painful past, nor move into that new life that awaited me.

A couple months ago I moved my office. In this move I did not put my ordination certificate or my seminary degree up on my wall. They reside in a file cabinet in my office. There is no malice or anger in this action. I just felt moved to embrace the new life as a Social Worker. It was liberating. It was scary. It was peaceful. It was.

When I was wrestling with new life and holding on to my church leadership identity I hated hearing, “But you will always be a part of the church.” or “You are still a minister, just in a different context.” It wasn’t the sentiment behind these statements that hurt but the actual severing of the identity to which I nestled my mind, body, and spirit to and her absence that hurt. I was not able to see the forest through the trees as I was healing.

I am new life I am blessed to work with folks that embody the “wounded healer” in ways I never experienced as a church leader. In living with the daily hurt and woe of others I am reminded of the healing path that my own life has taken. I am also reminded that positive self-care is important in treating others. I cannot treat others or be present for others if I am not healthy myself. There it is right there…in this text from John that will be read at my churches by many church leaders, “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The root to loving others is to first love yourself.

I am at peace with new life. I have made friends with my role outside of church leadership. I still minister. I have a congregation that consists of those suffering from mental illness, addiction, and that are bound in systemic generational poverty. I have no supporting church body. I do this in the margins of church. I am a secular missionary seeking to be light in a world so full of darkness that despair and woe are torches that illuminate our cave.

Now, I read articles on budget cuts and witness how this will impact my congregation. The limited resources that we have to work with will become even more limited. The hopelessness will become bolder. The despair becomes a brighter light. The cave deepens and the shadows cast upon the walls dim. Eventually, we will no longer be able to see the dirt under our nails having long forgotten the reflection of our own faces; we no longer see the reflection of humanity amongst those around us.

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus dinned with the disciples and readied all for his impending death. A meal was shared. People were physically nourished. The mental dimension was readied for a shift as the body was equipped for the journey. Care was administered.

I used to approach today with a solemn demeanor and a steady face, a sort of Ash Wednesday Lite. I never really gave myself the opportunity to do something different. I did not give this day another thought. I packed it away with most other things that reminded me of my life as a church leader. There my posture stood. I supported my wife as she performed and led the faith through this period. Me abiding by the supportive spouse role and showing up for a meal, helping out, and preparing for Easter Day (one of the few times I go to church).

I am not sure what is entirely different this go-around. It might be the thought of becoming a father again and how I want to model faith in community for my children. It might be the exhaustion from witnessing the evisceration of public mental health and substance abuse services in Oklahoma. I felt moved to read this text from John.

I felt a connection to the darkness offered in this text. Amongst the meal, the cleanliness, and the love is hope. A hope that I missed before. Jesus is preparing for us to go it alone. He is saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Where is he going?

When I went to seminary, a loving older, more conservative member of my home church warned me against being ruined by all that academic stuff I would be exposed to and told me to measure my faith against the question of, “Where did Jesus go when he died?” I quickly lost focus of this question amongst the hardship of classes and the fellowship of community at seminary. I am reminded of that question now.

Jesus was preparing us to go it alone. Jesus was preparing himself to go to hell. Jesus literally was entering a space where despair and woe are rampant. Jesus was preparing to empty himself of all he had to check-in at the marginalized motel. Jesus was going to hangout with my congregation.

If you have not been in relationship with someone that suffers with mental illness, addiction, or poverty you are missing out on Jesus. It is a challenging world full of unhealthy actions and broken trust that desperately wants love. “Where I am going, you cannot come.” But y’all must love each other as I have loved you. Jesus is saying, in order to do this you must love yourself as I love you. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a far cry from the way we treat those with mental illness. We are failing in being disciples in the absence of real and equitable treatment for those wrestling with the disease of addiction. We do not practice self-care and love ourselves as parts of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creation waste away in poverty. We are failing to understand the purpose of Jesus feeding our bodies and washing our feet. We get fixated on righteousness as cleanliness and divide up the remnants of Christ’s cloak before it is even of his back.

Today is a reminder that in the midst of the darkness, it the heat of the moment hope is not lost. There is a way out. We have a choice. We are empowered to move towards healthy. We cannot go where Jesus is going because Jesus lives there…Jesus doesn’t leave the despair, the hopelessness, the brokenness. Jesus lives there so that those that encounter the hurt, the pain, and the brokenness of mental illness, addiction, and poverty are not alone. We are called to not live there so that we might be those that Christ calls to enter that space and shepherd of siblings to the Promised Land of health. Our very health depends upon this.

Jesus prepares us for this journey and warns us of the dangers. Nothing is as it seems. Here, Christ puts light to the shadows of our cave and draws us out into community. Fear subsides. Anger relents. Wellness embraced. Wholeness found. Community realized. Today is a day of action. Today is the first day of your new life.

Wild Is The Wind

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Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9

We are familiar with mountaintops. We have longingly starred upon their majestic beauty from afar. We have stridden in confidence and trepidation towards their sturdy feet, looking up at the insurmountable task. We have endured, step-by-step up the mountaintop until, exhausted, we stood upon it and surveyed the lands below. We are intimately familiar with both figurative and literal mountaintops.

Mountaintops are not just physical earthly forms that divide continents and riddle her landscape with water. Mountaintops are the moments where you dream dreams of liberty and justice for all. Mountaintops are the times when you dare to hunger for equality. Mountaintops are shelters in which you discover your true self away from the violence and hatred of the here and now. Mountaintops are the not yet realized in the fallen world apart from the luscious garden of yore.

Mountaintops are beautiful and alluring. Mountaintops are awe-inspiring and attractive. Mountaintops are exhilarating and intoxicating. Mountaintops are treacherous and risky.

Mountaintops are places where mysterious things happen and what you see is not always what you get. Mountaintops reach in to the heavens beckoning us to look up in to the thin veiled sky and testify to the glories above. Mountaintops are reminders of the finitude and impermanence that plague the human condition.

The problem is that mountaintops do not sustain life. They are semi-barren with little to support you. Mountaintops have the power to transform but they do not have the power to sustain.

It is difficult to visit the history of Black America without engaging mountaintops. This nations history is filled with the ebb and flow of black mountaintops yearning for freedom and equality. Demanding the fullness of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made decree.

Mountaintops shake the foundations of our institutions as they proclaim the injustice of privileged citizenship and point to the hypocrisy of declared liberty. Mountaintops challenge the status quo. Mountaintops are risky. They are risky because they challenge, provoke, and demand. Mountaintops are risky because they magnify silence and invite us into the presence of a whispering God.

The same God that whispered Creation into existence rests upon that mountaintop and guides those that visit that mountaintop towards justice, peace, and liberation from the bonds of this world. Standing in the presence of this power, this whispering God in this mortal coil is risky. We are not prepared to deliver this mortal coil to the presence of Our Creator, Our God.

Mountaintops provide respite from the brokenness of this world and renew our spirit for the journey to life’s valleys. Life cannot be all mountaintops. We are called to walk up and down the mountaintops, through the valleys, and across the rivers of life. This is not a sprint or a race to the top. This is an endurance race of step-by-step, moment-by-moment, relationship-by-relationship of God working, wonderment. We are called to community.

Jesus did not transform alone. He had community surrounding him. He had an inner circle, Disciples, followers, family, and advisories. And upon his last mountaintop Jesus engaged in community and moved from the top to the valley to be near us. Jesus continued to model community for us.

If you stay on the mountaintop there is nothing or nobody present long enough to be in community with. I am reminded of the powerful charge of Howard Thurman when he said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Alive, Is this not what God has commanded of us? Alive, is this not what we have been born into this world to be? ALIVE! One cannot be truly alive up on that mountaintop. Alive is a state we are in as we depart the mountaintop and traverse the lands below, the valleys between those divine, glory-filled breaths of mountaintop glee. Alive, we are called to be alive.

What makes you come alive?

I invite you to close your eyes. Let us walk the valley floor towards the mountaintop. What does it look like? Is it cold? Is it warm? Are there trees as we make our way up that mountain? Feel the earth beneath your feet. What does it feel like? Feel the air fill your lungs. What does it feel like to take breath? What emotions are being evoked? Who is with you? What do you hear as we make our way up the mountain? We near the mountaintop…pause and look from where you have come. Look out over the valley below. What do you see from the mountaintop? What are you feeling as you look out? What emotions are present with you? Let us rest. Take a deep breath in through your mouth, pause, and exhale through your nose. Again, take a breath through your mouth, pause, and exhale through your nose. As you continue to breath, what is God speaking to you up on this mountaintop?

What makes you come alive? As you breath “what” becomes I feel alive…I am alive.

Transformation is here. Purpose is here. We have been to the mountaintop. We are alive. What are we going to do? We dream dreams that we might share our life with this world. It’s good to visit the mountaintop; we are just not supposed to stay there. You can’t stay alive on the mountaintop. You are alive. Go and share this with the world.

AMEN

Good Enough

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When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:19-23

 

How many of you have a bucket list?

 

I do. I want to walk the Way of Saint James, study at Plum Village, be silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and follow the footsteps of the Buddha. I also want to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. The one on my heart these days is to visit Astoria, Oregon.

 

Lewis and Clark spent a winter here on their journey out west. Clark Gable began his career there at the Astoria Theater. Many films for the 80’s were filmed there, including The Goonies.

 

29 years ago yesterday the world was introduced to a ragtag band of pre-teen heroes. Mikey, Mouth, Data, Brand, Chunk, Andy, and Stef lived in the Goon Docks. Their homes are being foreclosed due to the expansion of the local country club. The kids are upset and gather at Mikey and Brand’s house. There seems little hope for their cherished homes to survive.

 

Mikey and Mouth stumble upon an old map and convince the others to join them in finding the lost treasure. They follow the map and encounter The Fratellis, a fugitive family that had just broke out of jail. They manage to escape The Fratellis but had to go in to an underground tunnel, where they find themselves closer to the treasure than anyone ever before.

 

The rest of the film shows us that The Goonies pursuit of the treasure is only achievable if they all offer their best to each other. If Mouth did not speak Spanish they could not have followed the map. If Data did not tinker with gadgets they could not have avoided the traps set out before them. If Stef had not played the piano then they would not pass an obstacle. The Goonies needed Brand’s strength, Andy’s determination, and Mikey’s leadership. Everyone played a role in this journey towards the treasure.

 

Every one has a role. The parents’ frantically search for the kids. The Fratellis pursue the Goonies. Chunk befriends Sloth and then they pursue and eventually save the Goonies. The Goonies may have been lost in the eyes of some. To others the Goonies were dangerous. The Goonies believed they were on a journey to save their homes.

 

To my 10 year old heart it was magic. Surrounded by life that I was not quite responsible for I yearned for liberty, freedom, and security. Prior to this films release I had not the words or ability to articulate what kind of longing I held in me heart. I was not alone. For many people my age The Goonies gave us hope. It gave us a way forward and dared us to dream. I can ask almost every one of my contemporaries, “What do Goonies say?” And they will know how to answer. The Goonies is a geography in which our adult ethics and morals were hewn and the responsibilities of our parents were revealed.

 

“Goonies never say, die!”, guided them as they moved along their journey. Goonies did not quit because there was great risk involved in stopping. The Goonies did not stop because there was nothing left to do but to keep going. For the Goonies that journey was about getting lost in the hopes that if they made it out alive, life would be better and they would still be together.

 

Pentecost is like that. It is not a place of answers, nor does it hold on too tightly to tradition or pageantry. Pentecost is a place of meandering. A place where we all begin a journey to stay together.

 

Pentecost moves us through a chute of spiritual equipping and out in to a world that IS and IS NOT yet ready for the Gospel message. We are not the owner/operators of the Gospel. We are the meandering sojourners seeking hope amongst a world of hurt.

 

Pentecost is a journey where as you get lost in God you find yourself and as you find yourself you become a light to others trying to get lost. Because in being lost you will find yourself and we will all stay together. Pentecost challenges the notion of dominate culture that the fearfully and wonderfully made creatures of God exist in some sort of hierarchical guild with winners and loser, us and them, and good and bad. With this I am reminded of Paul’s declaration that there is no human division that shall bear witness against God. We are in the same boat. This journey you are on, this journey I am on, this journey they are on is the same journey.

 

Pentecost peels back the niceties of cultural decorum that maintains the status quo and calls us towards a light of exploration with equality and justice as the markers of faithfulness. The treasure we seek is not of gold and silver but of self-sacrifice and abiding in the love of God. The rewards we receive are not retirement plans, comfortable homes, a healthy paycheck, or a glory gilded sanctuary. If these are the trappings of a decent and orderly society than we have missed the Pentecost mark.

 

Along this Pentecost journey if we stay together, meander as one, we will be rewarded with community, we will awaken to a faithfulness that resembles sacrifice, and we shall experience resurrection and peace shall be with us.

Good Feeling

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Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24:44-53

 

Ten years ago I my life was about to take a dramatic shift. I was graduating with a degree in Religious Studies and a few credits shy of another degree in Ceramic Arts. Earlier that year I had traveled to Louisville to interview for a spot to become a missionary. I had not traveled outside of California; say for the time I lived as a toddler in Washington State and the few occasions I went to Tijuana. I was now traveling Southern California to raise support for my impending trip to Kenya.

I lived a sheltered life, one of fervent pursuit of identity and purpose. I had traveled the extremes of faith and religion. I was a militant Evolutionist. I fought faith with reason. I exposed the lies of pulpit sheep and sought to tame the false power of a risen Christ I saw as a charlatan.

I was a charismatic extremist. I ditched reason for absolute faith. I climbed the faithful ladder towards the prize of eternal life, hoping to take as many damned souls as I could along the way. I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and desperately preached his salvation on weekends at Venice Beach.

I abused and consumed Scripture as a drug addict consumes drugs. I was faithful and offensive. I was earnest and misguided. I was cocksure and uncertain. I was confused and confessed. I was a hot mess.

There I was traveling to raise financial support for this mission to discover my purpose. In all honesty I was seeking to escape the life I was bound in. I had no direction, little hope, and fear was my currency. I spent Lent, Passiontide, Eastertide, and on towards Pentecost rallying support. I would go to churches, in rented cars because my truck had been stolen, and share with folks what I was doing and pass around a plate. In most circumstances I barley covered the costs of the rental car and gas. I often felt out of place giving my spiel and passing that plate. I was surrounded with guilt and losing affection for this impending journey. As I was driving home after some spiel and plate action I wasted away in traffic and wondered, “Why am I doing this? “This is all I know,” was my reply. This is what the National Mission Office of the Presbyterian Church told us to do. We were to grind, meet, and connect. Build up our network to share our story and acquire the necessary financial support to go and do Christ’s work.

Then why was I not feeling part of community? Where was the financial support that I needed to answer the call? My network was shrinking as I sought to follow the traditional path. I was terribly unhappy. So, I stopped the spiel and plate act and sold my art.

I remained connected with my church friends and the friends that would never darken the door of a church that saw their love as sin. I held art shows in bars and my home church offered space for my art to be sold at the annual talent show. I loved this process. I saw my communities merge and support me. I rediscovered why I was doing this. And within 2 months I had raised $18,000. I only needed to raise $8,000.

I arrived in Kenya on a Holy Spirit contact high. I was as extreme as ever. I was ready and willing to get in to this missionary thing. I was part of a group of young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the PCUSA. We all checked in to a local convent to begin our language and cultural training. We were there for a month.

Life here was far slower than at home. I was forced to slow down and found lots of time to contemplate the road that got me to Kenya. I was never good at being still. I talk too much. I never meet a stranger. I am about as extroverted as they come. But there in that Kenyan convent, surrounded by a language and culture that I was obviously a stranger too, I waited. I waited. I waited.

I’d love to share with you all of the exciting things we did there in that first month. We stayed in that convent for a month. We never left the grounds. 24/7 those broken glass covered walls surrounded us. We waited. God forced us in to ourselves and we could not escape that life altering power of the Holy Spirit. Where we could not go, she could.

I realized that the same Spirit of peace, comfort, affliction, and love that covered my in the US was the same Spirit that was poking and prodding my heart there in Kenya. I realized that God was indeed the God that fashioned the world. The Word of God opened up to me. I was flooded with emotions and experiences of the road that brought me there. Behind those walls God made me wait so that I could find myself. No matter what I felt God was in control. The space around me was chock-full of God.

It was then that I realized that the best kind of faithfulness is when you dwell in that space that God has fashioned for you. It is in that space where heaven, hell, and everything in between lay, that you are nearest to God. That Divine geography that awakens your heart and mind to the call upon your life. It is there that your mind is opened and The Word of God may be understood. That suffering and overcoming that suffering is part of the process. We exist as witnesses to the glory of God, praising all of God’s grand Creation. Is this not the Chief End of Humankind?

That witness is not homogenous. That witness is as dynamic and individual as it is complex and communal. We are constantly stirring. We are the ebb and flow of God’s “Good Deeds.” In being faithful are we required to travel the same path? Does faithfulness require stagnation in tradition and rites that cement us in a path of “this is how it has always been”?

Are we not called to a living dynamic faith that builds up community and it connects us to the divine presence in each other? We are indeed called to stay in Jerusalem until we have been clothed with power from on high. The problem with this is that we often confuse adversity and suffering as signs that we have not been clothed with divine power.

Is it not the very fact that we endure suffering in the Name of Christ and that we experience adversity living into the call of the Gospel that signifies that we are no longer naked but have donned the power of that Holy, Holy Spirit?

It’s important to understand that God never demands or doles out suffering, nor is suffering ever a path to righteousness. One of the sins of the church is using suffering to justify slavery, violence, and crimes against humanity. But the reality is that our faith is tested every day. Sometimes, waiting in Jerusalem is all we got. And waiting there in the city for that divine power is the Holiest act of all.

Thanks Be To God, Amen.

Get Up, Stand Up.

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But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 7:55-60

 

In the living room he waits.

 

A collective love surrounds him, emanating from family and friends. The memories flood everyone’s minds. That 6-year-old boy that idolized his older brothers. Overcame a life of hardship. He did all the right things. He stayed away from trouble when his brothers made friends with it.

 

Family conflict and personal crisis clouded his development. He dreamed of better days. A hope to get out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him. He wrestled with himself. The normal teenage questions of who and what am I twisted his capacity to its breaking point. He took it to the field. Out there between the hash marks, on that grass-gilded field, he discovered he was ok.

 

He followed the traditions. He offered his body as a living sacrifice to the gods. He did all that was asked of him. He was a good son. He was a good and faithful disciple. And he did all of this hiding a part of who he was.

 

This night all of the past hurt, the pain of hiding the truth, the hopes and dreams blew open the door and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay professional football player. This night he is selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Michael, exhausted and relieved, hugs his boyfriend and the world shudders.

 

Are you wondering why I bring Michael Sam in to a conversation about Stephen? Ask yourself, why did Stephen get killed? Stephen was a believer with exceptional endowment of divine power that did great wonders and offered signs to the people of God’s grace. He ministered to the Greeks. He was proclaiming a tough word for the establishment to hear. Religious leaders grew to dislike and even despise him because he challenged their power and showed the world there was another way to worship God.

 

Stephen was public about his challenge. It was who he was that challenged the status quo. He did not hide who he was. He accepted and proclaimed to all the message of inclusive faithful being that countered the way things had always been. Those that heard or saw him either loved him and accepted this new way forward or hated him and sought to silence his challenge of power. Stephen was killed because he offered an expansive witness of God’s love that shifted power away from the way it has always been. Because it is always dangerous to challenge power.

 

Now, what about Michael Sam? Michael Sam got drafted and as countless draftees before him, teared up and embraced a loved one and shared a kiss. Only Michael’s loved one was also a man. The reaction was swift. Some took Sam to task for “doing that” on national TV. More proclaimed the end of moral certainty in the US. Many let it roll on by without a care or worry. What began in the mid 70’s with David Kopay, reached a peak that night in May when Michael Sam was drafted. He became the first openly Gay NLF player.

 

A preacher in Georgia has responded. He is organizing a boycott of Visa, who has sponsored Michael Sam, and a boycott of The Saint Louis Rams, who drafted Sam. He is catching steam under a theological proclamation that God abhors homosexuality. That the drafting of Sam has ushered in a new era of shame and moral decay. This pastor and his followers are warning America that the “Gay Agenda” is moving to secure rights for the LGBTQ community.

 

There is one thing I agree with this pastor on, and that is that the Gay Agenda is indeed seeking rights for the LGBTQ community. The Gay Agenda is seeking to affirm and secure the full humanity of God’s created order. As this plays out, yesterday we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of Same-Sex marriage in Massachusetts.

 

In the years since Massachusetts acknowledge the sanctity of love within Same-Sex partnerships an additional 17 States and the District of Columbia have followed suit. This represents 121 Million people or 38% of the total US population. With another 7 States, including Oklahoma, that are awaiting a higher court verdict to legalize Same-Sex marriage. When these 7 additional States legalize Same-Sex marriage an additional 55.9 Million people will be allowed to fully participate in the Rights we enjoy here today. This would mean that 56% of the US population would live in a State that exercised full equality for its citizenry. This is indeed a watershed moment. Times are changing. This is just in the last 10 years.

 

Where are we as the church? We are declining. We have lost the moral edge. Who knows what really did it? I imagine it was a menagerie of things that has led us to this place. No one event or one theological idea has delivered us to the edges of society. The end result is a church that is isolated from its children and a church that has no idea how to minister where her children are. This is not a Trinity thing, nor a rich church/poor church thing, a black church/white church thing. This is a how we have become lukewarm church holding on to yesterday thing.

 

Michael Sam is our Stephen. Michael Sam is pointing us in a direction; he represents a people, and is showing us how to proceed. Michael is showing us how to connect with our children. Stephen did the same and it got him killed. I hope that we do not stone Michael Sam but that we receive his presence and awaken the Gospel that Jesus the Christ is beckoning us to follow.

 

In the churches zeal to maintain tradition, morality, power, and faithfulness we have forgotten the most important commandment of all…To Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and to Keep God Above and Before All.

 

I am not suggesting that anyone of you betray your conscience and jump out in to the world as Open and Affirming of the LGBTQ community. I am suggesting that we need to do something when HIV/Aids is a scourge in the Black Community. I am suggesting that we could be preaching the Gospel and offering a space in the church for LGBTQ Christians seeking to run the good race of faith. I am suggesting that we embrace the compelling call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a light in this State for those that are not what some refer to as “traditional.” I am suggesting that we let go of morality and righteousness and hold on to the nearness of Christ and be community first. Can we trust that God will sort out the righteousness and we can focus on welcoming and loving our neighbors?

 

Stephen beckons to his time that the work that Jesus has performed is opening up the Temple to those that dare never step foot in to it before. He challenges the power of the status quo by daring to proclaim that God loves all and that the Messiah, Jesus, has cleared the way to expand the faith of all. Michael Sam is doing the same here for us.

 

He leads us towards greater love and faithfulness. He is beckoning us to follow a path that challenges the way things have been. He is showing us a way to expand our love and how to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Here is an opportunity for us to embrace as others are damming, judging, and proclaiming tat repentance is needed. We have a chance to step outside of the safety of our walls of tradition and drop the rocks of faith we hold, dust off the stranger, take them to our home for dinner, and listen to their story, as we pray, “Lord do not hold our sin against us.”

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

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On this morning two people were walking towards a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about what had happened over the last few days. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our…HOW THE…chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and to be crucified. But we had believed that he was the one to redeem Israel, the Messiah.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Earlier this morning, some women of our group puzzled us. They were at the tomb very early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb and found it just like the women had said; but we did not see him.

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went with them to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to everyone there. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

 

Last year I convinced my wife and a couple of friends to attempt the OKC Memorial Marathon. We set up a training schedule and stuck to it for about 3 weeks. Then life happened. My friends and I got busy with classwork. My wife’s work at the church dominated her life. We all got overwhelmed and lost track of the training regime.

 

Time passed by and the race drew near. With 2 weeks left before the race we all discussed dropping out. I honestly did not mind that idea. In fact I was trying to seed the soil with this idea. We decided that at the very least we could walk the 13.1 miles to complete the half marathon.

 

On race day we meet across the street from the memorial. It was humid and warm. I was tired, my wife was angry that I had talked her in to this. We gathered in the race corals not paying attention to where we were. The race began and we realized that we were in the elite area. This meant that we were surrounded with people that ran this race at a very fast pace. This was a pace that we were not prepared to maintain. We did our best to keep up and exhausted ourselves by the time we began to exit Bricktown.

 

We walked most of the race. Around mile 10 my wife and friends wanted to pick up the pace. I could not. My knees had nothing left and the blisters on my feet begged my to stop altogether. I pressed on but at a snails pace. I encouraged them to go ahead and I would meet up with them later.

 

That last 3 miles were the most painful steps of my life. I begged for relief and fought the urge to stop. I would walk for 10 minutes and rest for 9. I looked for a way out as I trotted along. Then I popped out of the neighborhoods and on to Broadway, facing the finish line. I gathered all my energy and tried to run. The crowd was going wild. Everyone was willing me forward. I was a galloping steed breaking the air towards the end. In reality, I was an ill-prepared man barely walking. I finally crossed the finish line with the most dejected look on my face.

 

I bought the photo to put on my wall to remind me to never run a race that I am not prepared to run. My experience at last years race reminds me of today’s text. We have a journey of 7 miles whose difficulty lies not in its distance but what what transpired prior to it. Jesus had just died and along with his death the hopes, dreams, and will of many went along with him.

 

These travelers’ hearts were burdened. These burdens prevented them from seeing the hope in their midst. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Mired in their grief, wanting to see what they wanted to see, they were not ready to see the resurrected might of their leader, their teacher, their friend.

 

One of the hardest parts of faith is believing in the midst of unbelief. There is this internal debate going on inside us that seeks to weigh the options and seek the straightest path. If we are hurting we seek to hurry through that hurt and want to arrive at that island of peace. When we see folks in pain we offer platitudes of comfort, perhaps their pain, their hurt is too close a reminder of our own inevitable bout with hurt. There is nothing like revealing the mettle of our community than pain and suffering.

 

Staying the course against increasing difficult odds is another marker of faith. When do you cut bait and row to shore, exiting the waters never to fish again? There is much sense to speak of when one talks about the rationality of what we do. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is not a good recipe for change. Sometimes is seems like faith is literally a maze of blind leading the blind with a power that is acquired in some sort of charismatic talent show. What is the difference between divinely inspired and inherently decided? The answer to this can put you on varying sides of a debate that dismantles communities and does little to solve the woes of those that are homeless, dying, hungry, or seeking to exist as the world around them devolves in to a warzone.

 

What is faith without a little trial? Tell this to those that suffer the hands of violence or those that live in a world of inequality and injustice. Faith in the midst of trials may seem sadistic or cruel. Offering a perspective of trails of faith in this instance may not allow for the kind of intimacy that draws us to relationship, at least the kind of relationship that is needed to reveal the twisted, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ.

 

Walking along that road towards Emmaus that day these people are filled with that kind of communal fashioning and shaking stuff. The community’s intimacy is shaken. Everyone is going in a different direction. Then arrives the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”That’s what the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus does; he comes along side us and rebuilds our community. To prepare for this we got to let go of everything. Nothing can be left to interfere with the new life being offered. This is what we are called to do as we move away from Easter and towards the resurrection of Christ’s ministry in the world on the day of Pentecost.

 

We mustn’t be kept from recognizing Jesus. We must look beyond what is broken, pierced, or marred within us, within our community. Just as we placed all our woes at the foot of the cross, trusting in the power of a swaddled child that rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We mustn’t pick them up now. Let us draw nearer to God so that our eyes may be opened and our hearts be prepared. Our community be renewed.

Fight The Power

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As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, and wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-41

 

 

I have always held sympathy for the Pharisee’s. They always seem to be on the short end of the stick. They try really hard to do the right thing and Jesus keeps on fighting their power. They are the Ancient Semitic version of the Bad News Bears.

I don’t think they are all wrong. Jesus did violate the Sabbath by laboring to healing our blind friend. Jesus may have not exercised the greatest restraint in confronting the temple authorities about the Sabbath law he broke. In the eyes of the Pharisee’s, Jesus is asserting authority without having earned it.

Here is this upstart fella from Nazareth, a Podunk guy from a Podunk town. He comes to the big city and starts telling the establishment how things ought to be run. In fact, as he asserts his opinion over authority he attracts disciples of his own.

I would be a little upset too, if the world to which I offered myself in service were not all that was promised. The countless years in the finest schools being finished to be part of societies upper crust. The Pharisee’s were the movers and shakers of their time.

The Pharisee’s got all the headlines, as the ancient world paparazzi would stake out the temple and their homes just to get us breaking news. The citizens of ancient Israel hung on the words and actions of the Pharisee’s. They were the gurus, yogis and proprietors of wisdom that delivered all that self-help goodness. If you were to climb a mountain seeking wisdom from above you may discover a Pharisee a top that peak above the clouds.

The Pharisee’s were what you dreamed of growing up to become. Being a Pharisee meant you were the peoples advocate to God. For a faithful religious devotee, can it get any better than that?

What do we dream for our children? What do we dream for ourselves? Do any of us dream of being a peacenik, carpenter just scrapping by? Do you still dream? Have we chosen the path through the eye of a needle or have we walked the rocky, thorn-laden path towards the open arms of Christ? Taking that path and delighting in our failing in the name of Christ.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This man was born blind neither according to his sin nor the sin of his parents but so that God might be witnessed in his restoration. This is another way of saying it is not about us it is about God.

The Pharisee’s question Jesus’ actions and with or without justification fear rises in the heart of the Pharisee’s. They are concerned with maintaining the status quo. They need their order and structure to exist in a world of ever increasing chaos. If Jesus challenges there place, their power then what is going to happen to them? Things are going to change. If our leaders are forced to change then we will have to change. If we have to change then what are we going to do about the brass plaqued treasures we have stored in our churches?

The early church is in a familiar situation as we are today. The Romans occupy the Holy Lands. The Promised Land in now the rented land. Wickedness visits the chosen people. They await an opportunity to be relevant again. They hunger for that time in the good old days when thousands of folks filled the temple. They remember when they were the rule of the land and they fit in to a way of life that was good for them. There was plenty to eat and everyone pitched in.

Just as fear motivated the Pharisee’s questions, fear can motivate our questions. We can operate in a manner that is more about survival than answering God’s calling for us to prosper through transformation of our minds.

Are we asking the wrong questions? Are we climbing mountains to distract us from the duty of the mundane calling to be justice in the life we lead? Are we in shape to climb the mountain? Are we even called to climb the mountain? If we all climb the mountain, there will be no one left in the valley to offer refreshments.

Where is the Pharisee in us and what are they holding on to? I have no problem relating to and finding the Jesus in me. I could share with you 1,000 ways about the Jesus-like awesome I exhibit day in and day out. I don’t like to admit that there are a 1,000 ways I am a Pharisee as well.

I was watching this film last week called Enlighten Up! It is a film about a guy that is skeptical about yoga and what practitioners’ claim are its benefits. He agrees to practice yoga for a few months and allow a camera crew to follow him around. He goes to a few classes in New York City and is not amused with the perceived hoity toity nature of those involved in the New York City yoga scene.

Then he goes to India to study at the source for a few months. He discovers that yoga is more about being than about doing. He learns that yoga is not just something that one signs up for and attends a couple of times a week to get healthier. Yoga is a way in which one may enter in to a deep conversation with their self and awaken to the real self.

In one of the final scenes on the film the skeptical atheistic American is sitting at the feet of a very famous Guru as the Guru answers his questions.

The American says, “I’m afraid to ask you stupid questions.”

The Guru replies, “Answers are stupid. Questions are never stupid. You came to meet me. You could have come by cycle. You could have come by car. You could have come by train. You could have come by elephant. You could have come by foot. To reach here, there are so many directions. That depends on you, where you are presently. It’s not important what you are doing. It’s important why you are doing.”

The American asks, “What do you mean?”

The Guru answers, “You can prepare food for yourself to consume. You can prepare food for somebody you love. And you can prepare food for your Lord, your god. The action will be the same. Physically, but inside it will be different. Even if you are forced to do some cooking for somebody you don’t like you will do it. But you won’t enjoy it.”

The American questions, “The same can be said for yoga?”

The Guru returns, “Anything…anything under the sun. The same can be said about anything.”

The American replies, “But I’m a godless guy from New York City. It does not make sense to me about bhakti (devotion) or Krishna.”

The Guru says, “Don’t embrace them. I never said to embrace Krishna. No, never embrace. Never do it. If you don’t like, then don’t do it. Go on practicing what you are doing. If you want to believe in God, believe in God. If you don’t want to believe, don’t believe. And still you can be a religious person.”

The American asks, “Then what would make me religious or spiritual?”

The Guru answers, “Being yourself. Being your true self.”

Jesus restores the blind man to his true self. The Pharisees witness this and get nervous and question him three times. They bring in his parents too. The Pharisees press him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

It is not about the questions the Pharisee’s are asking it is about the questions the Pharisee’s are not asking. What condition are their hearts in? Where is fear taking them? Danger is near.

There is danger in hearing the Gospel. When we ask questions of God we hear the Gospel. When we hear the Gospel we are transformed from the inside out. We are born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in us. We are not born blind neither according to our sin nor the sin of our parents but so that God might be witnessed in our restoration! Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

It is good to ask questions of God only if we are prepared to seek answers. Asking questions of God draws us deeper in to relationship with our Divine Creator. This is the root of the child-like faith we are all called to. Parents, does a child not question to understand the world around them? Children ask questions until they understand what is going on and then ask some more questions, testing the parameters of their existence. It is good to ask questions. To question is to discover. To discover is to mature. To mature is completing ones faith. The completion of faith draws us nearer to God. Being nearer unto God is that sweet spot we are all chasing.

God Only Knows

The following sermon was modified from a sermon that was to be preached at Connecting Point Presbyterian Church and was snowed out.  It is presented to you with y’all as the congregation.

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12

 

When I was in the last year of seminary I got a few gems I held on to.  One was enjoy that final year together with those folks that walked alongside of me the past two years.  I did enjoy them.  Between ordination exams, scrambling for what would be next, and writing those papers I should have at the beginning of the semester I savored the presence of these saints.  We held court nightly at the local watering hole.  We sang karaoke and tried bánh mì for the first time.  We explored Austin with a newfound passion.  We knew that our time here with each other, this special place that shaped us and forged a mind and heart of God that we trusted would carry us away from each other and towards the “not yet.”  I have never had a moment of time like that again.

 

I was also told to practice good self-care.  The physical, mental, and spiritual pressures that ravaged my body for three years did indeed take its toll.  I put on over 70 pounds, got pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, addiction problems, and an academic non-emotional faith.  Towards the end of seminary I did manage to join a gym, watch my diet (some), and quit smoking.  This did little to curb my appetite for destruction.  Much of this pursuit may have more to do with me getting married a week after graduation.

 

The last gem was that 50% of my classmates and cross-denominational colleagues would not make it past five years of service in ministry.  I always knew I would have to trail blaze a path towards the church I felt called to be a part of.  I imagined I was prepared for that.  I also did not worry, as I was going to pursue social work.

 

Colleagues prepared for parish ministry, sought work in parish ministry, or worried; I got in to social work school and scored a scholarship.  We moved to Louisville and things went array.  I stumbled into ministry and found myself abandoning my social work dreams.

 

The last gem of a 50% ministry dropout rate was replaced with ass scrambling to figure out how to transform and equip a congregation to move towards the emerging spaces of missional ministry.  With a largely senior population and with a motivated group of members we had some interesting experiences.  Moments of growth and moments of devastating loss.  For three years I grew, the congregation grew.  Then it came time for us to part ways.

 

Leaving was emotional.  I was not prepared for this transition.  I lost myself and woke up in darkness.  I hurt and could not shake it.  This was a moment I realized that I could not do this by myself.  I was isolated, felt alone, and scared about what lie ahead.  I was one of those that dropped out of ministry within five years of graduation.  I felt like a failure.  I proved all the naysayers correct.  I pondered if I was ever really called at all.  I lamented the debt I hold sans a viable vocational career.  I was low.  I was in Lo-debar.

 

I reached out to y’all.  I asked for prayers.  I vented.  I wrestled publicly with faith.  I lashed out and bit those I love.  I was a sour, salty piece of work.  Here is when I became aware of, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Here is when my poverty bound spirit received a gift of ears that hear and eyes that see.

 

A mentor of mine lovingly shared with me the pain of his life.  This was during a seminary-sponsored event of family celebration and welcome.  We sat there in his library, just around the corner of stories of misadventures and missteps.  He spoke kindness to me.  I listened with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  I felt, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Comfort washed over me.  My warming heart knew I was not alone.  Courage began to creep in to my depressed and anxious soul.

 

Gone was the uninformed bravado of a green horned pastor of privilege.  The fainted victim posture gave way to something new.  I was naked.  All I had left was a trust that God was still here and wanted to chat.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

 

I have never seen the difference between humility and meekness.  I have always seen meekness as weakness.  Humility was prostration before God.  In reality it was more of a deflecting all good and bad comments and praise away from me and towards God.  I could not dare allow for any praise or criticism to penetrate the armor of God.  A good solider keeps a tight defense and a watchful eye.

 

I would also include any emotions in this.  I could not let love or trust in as that would lead to disappointment and hurt.  God does not want me to hurt nor does God want me to have obstacles.  This was the good things happens to good people and good people are Godly people theology of my youth.  It is false and a cheap theology of an immature faith.

 

I used to believe that I had to guard my heart and mind from knowledge.  That the devil was bound up and hiding in progressive/liberal ideas.  I did not trust my mind to engage divine ways.  In seminary I awakened to, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  I was told that I was smart for the first time in seminary.  I was encouraged to study and equipped with skills to research, study, critically think, and to listen.  My hunger for knowledge was no longer guarded.  A cocktail of Shiner Bock and cheese fries vanquished that dragon of doubt and fear as we argued and celebrated at “The Crown”, our other seminary classroom.

 

I fought the love of others for a long time.  I hardened my heart and was an unkind, masked fool.  When I began to receive the freely offered love of others, trust arrived, as did mercy.  For the first time in my life I was washed in the blood of the lamb (figuratively of course) as I read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

 

Mercy…grace…forgiveness…love.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  I did see God. Not in my pursuit to shed the human inside me but in the imperfect communities that loved me in spite of my shortcomings and embraced me because I was me.  Pure in heart was not a procedure as much as it was a diagnosis.

 

The symptoms include loving kindness, loving mercy, and humbly walking with God.  Treatment includes community, relationships, loving the stranger, and seeing God everywhere you go.

 

Then you get, “Blessed are the cheese makers…This is not meant to be taken literally, but refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.” 

 

The Beatitudes are not meant to be a checklist of shit to do in order to get a blessing.  The beatitudes are a path towards being a blessing to others.  The heavenly reward can be debated.  In all honesty, I do not believe in heaven.  If I did my heaven would be Sam Cooke playing a set & welcoming Pete Seeger up to play along.  Thomas Merton & Dorothy Day occupy a table in the crowd & sing along.  James Brown is backstage warming up with Johnny Cash.  Sam Kinison is working the bar, as Judas orders another PBR.

 

The Cliff Notes version is blessed are those that bless the Other.  The bottom line is be kind to others, be kind to yourself.  Love others, love yourself.  The church is all fucked up and broken.  It is in decline and that 30-40 year career you dreamed of is not getting good odds from Vegas bookmakers.  Resources are dwindling.  It is tough to be the young adult representation and the pastor.  Everyone knows change needs to come but no one will take the first step.  Parish ministry seems more like hospital chaplaincy.  The connectional church feels more like the dysfunctional church.  The good news is that the church is so broken that we cannot make it any worse.  Whatever you are doing is better than what is going on now.  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You are fearfully and wonderfully made creature of God.  Go and be your bad self.  And remember the self-care.  That’s important.