A Lesson You Taught

by Ryan McGuire3

I had reason to think of you the other day. At first the same old stinging feeling came with the memory of you, and then it left the way a person walks through an open door that closes automatically.

I was glad that the pain we held between us didn’t stay long. It would have been a continual reminder that I hadn’t finished the soul business you left in the echo of our last conversations. I wouldn’t have accomplished as much as I needed. So when the sting left, I was thankful.

I thought about writing you a letter. And then I thought I’d simply write this. Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for changing me. I won’t have the same bitter feelings I did when we last met. I forgive you. I’m different now. I’ve changed.

I hope you are well. Really well. I hope I can take what you taught me into my current and future hurts so that the people I’m currently pained by get the benefit of what I learned because of you and us.

Prayer for Compassion

by Leeroy10Compassionate One,

when I am irritated or discouraged

by how my loved one responds

or does not respond,

fill me with compassion and kindness.

When memories of unpleasant experiences

of the past return,

assist me in extending forgiveness.

Help me, also, to be kind to myself,

to not deny the struggles.

Soothe my sore spirit

when I find the days especially difficult.

Forgive me for my own failings

and help me to overcome any guilt I have

for not always being my best self.

You know that these days are not easy ones.

Bless both of us with your merciful kindness.

From May I Walk You Home (pg. 35)

America’s Next Top Model

by Karl Fredrickson

Sunday before service started I told Nate Noonen that the sermon was hard for me, hard in the preparation. I told him it was harder for me than the words appeared to me on the page after I’d written it.

Usually I try to move beyond a sermon when it’s over. I know that many preachers find this difficult, even if by virtue of our work we, simply, have to go off to the next thing. I learned from Dallas Willard how important and ministry nurturing it can be to move along, to keep going, and to not get stuck in a sermon.

It can be a tempting thing to linger over what we say as preachers. Aside from our easy proclivity to esteem ourselves, we can also lose sight of the purpose of the sermon. It’s purpose is, in part, to move people to action.

Lingering and action contrast. The best sermons are worth lingering over, returning to, hearing again, and they somehow move us to act, to be in the world, and to be different in the world.

For me, moving beyond Sunday’s sermon has proven particularly difficult. I invited the church, our intentionally multiethnic church, to listen to and learn from the life of Hannah, a sister in the first testament who spent years asking God to remember her, asking God for a son. Most of us don’t embrace the real experience of waiting while asking for the same thing. I personally find it’s more efficient to keep going. Especially in terms of injustice and other topics that prove our country’s lack of growth, conception, and productivity.

As part of the sermon, I gave a few names of people that I think our church folks would be tutored by in our work of reconciliation. These people “came up before me” during my sermon preparation the weeks prior. They aren’t, by any means, an attempt at a longer treatment of the question. Of course this was in the same message that I offered my personal and hard questions about why that ministry of reconciliation is even important and how hard it is despite its biblical relevance. Hannah is answering some of my personal questions these days.

My brother, David, has offered a wonderful resource on the topic and related themes of reconciliation in the form of an annotated bibliography. You need to read it here.

At Nate’s request, here are those names of people I mentioned. I characterized them as contemporary renderings of 1 Samuel 1-2, fully realizing that these folks themselves would use other words to describe their work. Thanks for asking, Nate Noonen.

  1. The writings and work of Audre Lorde whose poem, New York City, I read as a contemporary version of our scriptural passage (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
  2. The writings and work of Peggy McIntosh
  3. The writings and work of Patricia Leary
  4. The writings and work of Tim Wise
  5. The writings and work of Ida B. Wells
  6. The writings and work of bell hooks
  7. The revolutionary suicide post on Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s blog was to be my second contemporary version of the text but I didn’t have the time to include it; it’s here.

“good news for all of us”

by Tim Marshall

Walking into a room and meeting another person wherever they are. To show up and shut up and be present. To move through the human desire to say something to make it all okay and just be. To be a reflection of God-in-flesh to those who are suffering.

Also, my patients reflect God to me. People who are dying share visions of angels and whispered messages from the hereafter. Patients who are undergoing intensive rehab therapies after a stroke speak of wrestling with God in the dark hours like Jacob and emerging with a limp, but having touched God.

Chaplaincy is not a cerebral ministry of long hours spent in a pastor’s study in preparation for preaching. It is holding hands through bed rails and wearing isolation gowns and being willing to literally stand in suffering with God’s beloveds. It is not about translating Hebrew or Greek from ancient texts, but about translating scripture into something now that matters to the mother who is delivering her stillborn child or the son losing his father to cancer.

The theology of the cross is particularly apparent to me in my hospital work. This theology holds that God’s love for all of creation is most clearly seen in the act of dying on the cross.  That God did the most human thing of all, which is to die. The theological conviction that shapes my ministry as a chaplain is that God knows what it is to suffer and to die, and there is no place that God is unwilling to go, even death. This is good news for all of us who feel immersed in suffering, our own or that of others.

Read Amy Hanson’s full post here.

For Tonight’s Service of Lament

by Gabriel BarlettaTonight we pray for the people of our city, our country, and our world because we have seen, participated in, allowed, and suffered so much violence. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the parents who have lost children because of police violence, state-sanctioned violence, faith-sanctioned violence, grief-induced violence. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the spouses and significant others to those who have died at murderous hands, that you would grant them vision to see again new life even while noticing how all their plans have shattered. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the children who are without mothers and fathers, asking that you would come close to them in special ways and offer them every needed grace for a life you never imagined for them. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the fallen that their names would be remembered as you recall them, that their stories would be among your best told ones, and that their deaths might inspire us to fix broken law enforcement programs, to face the fundamental wickedness of white supremacy, to turn from the error of all hatred seen and unseen. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for those Dallas police officers who were murdered this week and for the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and other victims of excessive force and for every family involved that your grace would be as overwhelming as their grief, that your kindness would envelope each one like a protest, and that your tears would mingle with ours as we suffer. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the unarmed who have fallen from bullets by police in 2015 and by name:

Dontre Hamilton

Eric Garner

John Crawford

Michael Brown

Ezell Ford

Dante Parker

Tanisha Anderson

Akai Gurley

Tamir Rice

Rumain Brisbon

Jerame Reid

Tony Robinson

Phillip White

Eric Harris

Walter Scott

Freddie Gray

Matthew Ajibade

Leslie Sapp

Brian Pickett

Andre Murphy

Tiano Meton

Alvin Haynes

Jeremy Lett

Natasha McKenna

Terry Price

Calvon Reid

Thomas Allen

Darrell Gatewood

Charly Keunang

Naechylus Vinzant

Bernard Moore

Anthony Hill

Terrance Moxley

Askari Roberts

Brandon Jones

Denzel Brown

Keith Childress

Bettie Jones

Kevin Matthews

Leroy Browing

Roy Nelson

Miguel Espinal

Nathaniel Pickett

Tiara Thomas

Cornelius Brown

Chandra Weaver

Jamar Clark

Richard Perkins

Stephen Tooson

Michael Marshall

Alonzo Smith

Yvens Seide

Anthony Ashford

Lamontez Jones

Rayshaun Cole

Paterson Brown

Christopher Kimble

Junior Prosper

Keith McLeod

Wayne Wheeler

India Kager

Tyree Crawford

James Carney

Felix Kumi

Wendall Hall

Asshams Manley

Christian Taylor

Troy Robinson

Brian Day

Michael Sabbie

Billy Davis

Samuel Dubose

Darrius Stewart

Albert Davis

Sandra Bland

Salvado Ellswood

George Mann

Jonathan Sanders

Victo Larosa

Kevin Judson

Spencer McCain

Kevin Bajoie

Zamiel Crawford

Jermaine Benjamin

Kris Jackson

Alan Williams

Ross Anthony

Richard Davis

Markus Clark

Lorenzo Hayes

De’Angelo Stallworth

Dajuan Graham

Brandon Glenn

Reginald Moore

Nuwnah Laroche

Jason Champion

Bryan Overstreet

Terrance Kellom

David Felix

Lashonda Belk

Gregory Harris

Terry Chatman

William Chapman

Samuel Harrell

Norman Cooper

Brian Acton

Donald Ivy

Frank Sheppard

Darrell Brown

Dominick Wise

Jason Moland

Nicholas Thomas

Quintonio LeGrier

Bettie Jones

In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the perpetrators of violence, be they police, children, racists, politicians, citizens, people we love or people we hate; will you do the impossible and the unthinkable and save them in every just way. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the people who are responding out of fear and pain alone, that they might arrest their own turmoil and refuse to allow it to cause more harm. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the churches and faith communities which have been too quiet, done too little, and barely accepted your truth; that you would open us to reality as you know it and that we would be absolutely changed. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for a gospel experience with Jesus that will convert us to the truth of love that dies but that always, always, always defeats death. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for a Pentecostal experience that we might be shaken and roused by the holiest of spirits who will give us right words. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for hope because Black folk have lost it, protection because no legal system provides it, wisdom because all our best rules never seem to apply to us, and justice because it can only really come from you. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Rohr on Resurrection, Transformation, & Humanity

by Felix Russell-SawI might quibble over a point in this, but today’s meditation was a gift to me, given recent challenges to my soul, recent deaths I’m dying. Here’s part of it:

Resurrection is not a miracle as much as it is an enduring relationship. The best way to speak about the Resurrection is not to say, “Jesus rose from the dead”–as if it was a self-generated miracle–but to say, “Jesus was raised from the dead” (as many early texts state). The Eternal Christ is thus revealed as the map, the blueprint, the promise, the pledge, the guarantee of what is happening everywhere, all summed up in one person so we can see it in personified form.

If you can understand Jesus as the human archetype, a stand-in for everybody and everything, you will get much closer to the Gospel message. I think this is exactly why Jesus usually called himself “The Son of Man.” His resurrection is not so much a miracle that we can argue about, believe, or disbelieve, but an invitation to look deeper at what is always happening in the life process itself. Jesus, or any member of “the Body of Christ,” cannot really die because we are participating in something eternal–the Cosmic Christ that came forth from God.

Death is not just physical dying, but going to the full depth of things, hitting the bottom, beyond where you are in control. And in that sense, we all probably go through many deaths in our lifetime. These deaths to the small self are tipping points, opportunities to choose transformation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people turn bitter and look for someone to blame. So their death is indeed death for them, because they close down to growth and new life.

But if you do choose to walk through the depths–even the depths of your own sin and mistakes–you will come out the other side, knowing you’ve been taken there by a Source larger than yourself. Surely this is what it means to be saved. Being saved doesn’t mean that you are any better than anyone else. It means you’ve allowed and accepted the mystery of transformation, which is always pure gift.

If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is that God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you–the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust–to transform and enlighten you. Now you are indestructible and there are no absolute dead ends. This is what we mean when we say we are “saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” This is not a cosmic transaction, but a human transformation to a much higher level of love and consciousness. You have been plucked from the flames of any would-be death to the soul, and you have become a very different kind of human being in this world. Jesus is indeed saving the world.

Sign up here for meditations from Fr. Rohr, if you appreciate this kind of material.

 

 

View More

by Paul GilmoreI’ve been inching up to what is probably going to become a basic prayer of mine for the next few years. Though I didn’t know it, the prayer seems to have simmered up from a recent conversation with a tight friendship circle, a few reflections on the lives of brothers, and an article that I read from a theologian I respect. Even with those prior soul contacts, I wasn’t listening to my soul until I opened an email.

I get this email regularly. It’s from one of the digital photo collections which send me pictures. In this particular email, there are always six new pictures. You can’t click on the pictures to see or download them. You have to hover under what you see and click the box “View More.”

Those two words are becoming a ready prayer. I’m finding myself feeling those words, thinking them, contemplating them. They hold a basic request that continues to flourish in my depths.

I’ll be asking God to grant that to my congregants and to my patients and to my students. I’ll be praying for larger views for the folks in my family and for my friends. I pray that for you who might fall over this post. I hope and I pray that you will, by God’s help, be able to view more.

Keep looking. Keep listening. Keeping seeing more.

The Occasion of Your Ordination, Winston

by Paul JarvisThe first time I was ordained I didn’t want it. I didn’t want those ministers signing their names to a document that would permanently connect me to this call. I went through the occasion with reservations, reservations I didn’t have when I was ordained by the Covenant.

Of course, that local church, my home church, was the best place to get that first experience. It was and is meaningful because it was the ground out of which God let me come to understand who I was as a person and as a servant. It was altogether right for me to be ordained there, even if by a local assembly.

The connectional ordination came much later, after much more specific, strategic work, but work in the same direction. You remember how important my being in Estes Park with the people of the Covenant was because of what happened with us and the boy. You heard me tell that story. You were there in spirit to contain and appreciate and mourn the badness. Of course, you were a part of the process of getting me through that ordination experience and there to help me engender and add the capstone of it in the conversation I had with Dr. Taylor.

Now that we’re celebrating this step in your journey, I hope that you can find an exactness and a rightness to this moment. I love that the church is acknowledging this call of yours, one that was underlined in the classrooms we both trafficked and one that the Spirit was fashioning in you in deep woods long before we met. Your journey with all its twists. Your journey expressed in children’s ministry and community building. Your journey with all of those words. Your journey locating wisdom from the ages for the people in your path.

Certainly God has used you. The church makes that known in its laying on of hands, its public declaration, its symbolic gifts. You are a great friend. You are a great pastor. You are great at so many things that I will keep out of the public post.

Consistently humble and attuned to the complex truths of your human experience, may you be ever mindful of your greatness. May this be, among other things, a clarifying series of moments for you. May you gain crisp pictures of wide places where God will use you. May you hear the voice of the One you have known before you knew you were praying. May you sense in compelling ways every blessing. May you have every needed grace for every next step.

 

My Other Words to You

by Yamon FigursI didn’t say this on your Facebook wall, but these additional words sit and stand and leap behind what two sentences I did post. What you see is not just for you. What you see is for us. What you see is for you and us to change.

You’ve gone to the islands a couple times that I can think of, and it didn’t occur to me until I saw your photos that your going was about more than your teaching or your preaching or your inestimable ability to capture youth and leaders.

You have always been more than I could wrap my head around. You have always been more than anyone could. You have always been more.

I must admit and repent that I’ve not cultivated the vision to see you as you are. You know that history is full of times when we’ve had to knock each other back. That is the fundamental agreement we made some day over you cutting my hair or in the basement eating French silk pies. We agreed to be honest and truthful. We agreed we’d notice each other and tell each other what we saw.

The trick in keeping that agreement is in the constant cultivation of vision. And it wasn’t until I saw you seeing that landfill that the spirit—and we may blame a spirit—whispered to me that I wasn’t seeing. I wasn’t seeing you and why you were there in the Philippines.

I knew you were going. I celebrated and prayed when I saw you heading there. I did so the way I always do when I see you doing the doggone thing. You’re doing what you always have. You’re doing what you’re here to do. And with your persistence with your life call comes my sneaky ability to take vision for granted.

I assume you’ll do the thing. I assume you’ll achieve, not greatness, but dogged consistency in following Jesus. I assume you’ll be you. I assume too much.

In my assumptions I didn’t look closely. In my assumptions I stopped noticing what was, perhaps, just beyond both our gazes. Of course, you may know this. In which case, you can accept my words as a reminder. What you see is for you but it’s also for us. What you see is for you and us to do something about.

You haven’t been brought to that place—and I have in mind the Philippines and other places too—to stop at seeing. You have always been a moving man. You get to my nerves, you move so much. You get to me because you expect so much damned movement. But that is a quality that is necessary with what you saw.

Be moved by what you see. And then move us. Do it by grace. Do it in faith. Do it after and while being convinced that changing vision is never your job alone. It never really is your job. Change your vision and ours by changing what’s before us.

I love you whether you listen to me or not, and you know I hate to be ignored.

Prayers of the People

When one person is shot in an urban area, it’s horrific. I can only imagine–and I don’t want to imagine this–what it’s like to be part of the emergency response to dozens being shot.

The dead. Their bullet-speckled bodies. The trails of their dreams littered the packed corners of a club. The families forever impacted and immediately spun into the dizzying unbelievable grief of this type of death. The injured, still alive and, in a way, immeasurably lifeless. Emergency personnel and medical providers who “are professional” and who are also almost immediately depersonalized in the process. The offender permanently affixed in our minds for the last of his sins.

There is a whole lot wrong with the world as seen in this latest tragedy. I heard the snip of the story out of Orlando this morning and didn’t really see anything until this afternoon. And today is Sunday. Today is the Lord’s day in Christian parlance. It’s the primary day we gather to worship, to reflect, to listen, and to pray. Though all those things are parts of a Christian’s daily life, Sunday is the day we do those things together, side by side, hearing and being heard by our relatives in the faith. Sunday is the day that we, together, rehearse the promise that, though things like this happen now, they will not always be.

I’m sitting here, heading to a church function, thinking about my prayers in the church service, thinking about what I said and what I didn’t say. I’m thinking about how this was precisely the reason I stopped watching the news late into every Saturday night. It was a part of my religious practice actually, watching and listening so that I could give words to what I’d say on Sunday mornings when I led any parts of worship. I stopped because I didn’t want all these images informing my prayers. Even while the news was exactly what needed to frame the language of my prayers.

It’s bruising to pray well. It’s hard to pray honestly. It’s hard because you have to pray about the bald-faced evil that terrorizes people for no good reason. It’s one thing to pray for the long-stretched out problems that will really take God to change. It’s another thing to pray for things that God has left for us to do.

When I was in seminary, I learned a particular way to pray. We’d gather in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful and offer prayers of the people. In the church of my upbringing, we had altar call and altar prayer and extemporaneous prayer. But we didn’t have this explicitly framed prayers of the people. It’s essentially a list of prayers–often written out thoughtfully by the prayer leader before service–that is read and held by all the people in the gathered space. The prayers of the people were both a reminder to God what things we needed and a reminder to us what we needed to be.

I hope that people prayed today. I hope that people who never prayed did. I hope that church people and non-church people said something to God. And I hope that the intense tragedies like these make us into a more prayerful people. I’m sure nothing bad can come from praying. I’m sure change and grace can result in fact. I hope you’re praying. I hope you say something to God about what you see today and what we all saw, again, with this latest unmentionable terror.

 

Living Windows

WNCThis week the leadership of the National Cathedral decided to remove two confederate flags from the stained glass windows in the beautiful building. What remains will be a conversation starter for those who visit the Cathedral with plans for the Chapter (i.e., the leadership at the Cathedral) to determine in the next couple years “how the windows will live in the Cathedral.” The original piece I read is here.

I also read a wonderful article at Christianity Today that reminded me about the long history of Black church burnings in the United States and what it means when our churches burn. That piece is here.

I have very little room to think through these two pieces. I want to, and I will soon, but not right now. What’s in me requires space and patience to come forth. Sometimes good words and interesting experiences do that to me. They make me want to find the best words for the occasion.

But there’s teaching to be done, children challenging my limits, and other words rumbling in my head. For the moment, I’m putting these up here for my future reference. I’m not alone in this, but I have things to say. Even if I can’t put my words into sentences yet.

 

It Was Fear That I Saw

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

Photo Thanks to Matthew Wiebe

I’ve seen the look in too many people’s eyes. And I don’t say that as a pin of honor or badge on my lapel. It was a dreadful thing when I first started seeing fear so regularly. There’s nothing like the naked, bold, and startling fear in the eyes of a person who watched the slow-coming death of someone they love. Love makes us hold tightly. Love, often, is the enemy of surrender. And I thought about it when a woman asked me, in a way, about my own loves.

When I first started in ministry at Sweet Holy Spirit, my role was primarily administrative. Aside from some relatively small amount of pastoral care, I functioned the way an executive pastor functions, looking at costs, praying about meeting budget, managing operations, getting to know a staff, decreasing that staff, trying to compensate the staff based upon the unique and faithful expressions of ministry’s vocations. I brought an attorney on retainer, developed relationships with insurance agents, learned about wage demands from the IRS, and became a master at explaining differences between exempt and non-exempt employees.

Being an executive pastor who was in the seat when the pastor was away was more responsibility than I was ready for. It aged me. It still does in a way. And I remember seeing fear in those days. But it was a different fear. It was a fear of missing marks that were mostly set in the wide generous room of a large church. I had my own fears. But in terms of the real fears of others, I was hardly exposed to much. I was the person who kept at the overarching system so that the good folks in our church could come and hear the words spoken. But I hardly had enough time with those folks, those listeners. They would have taught me differently about different fear.

When I came to New Community, I came, in part, because it was twenty times smaller than my home church by my conservative estimate. I would be able to pastor in a classical way, and that vision is one that I’ve been able to live. I’ve been in homes, around tables, having conversations and not just at the office or even in my study at home. I’ve been able to search the lives of others at their leadership and invitation. I’ve seen more fears in the eyes of our people.

And still, my church is “relatively young” church. I find myself over the years putting up three or four fingers when I tell people how many times I’ve visited hospitals for the people of New Community. It’s relatively young, I tell them. People don’t ask the pastor to come to the hospital when a baby is born, and twenty and thirty-somethings don’t generally get hospitalized and require pastoral visitation. Where I preached twelve funerals a year (as part of a staff of ministers) at SHS, I’ve done almost as many weddings during some of my ten years at New Community.  Fear looks differently in those congregational contexts.

When I started working as a chaplain, I started seeing fear differently. In the medical center, I saw it all the time. I see it all the time. I can see it daily if I choose. Unfortunately, there is always somebody (perhaps a somebody in 900+ beds) negotiating with fear.

The good thing about being a chaplain who is also in the supervisory education process is that you’re always doing action, reflection, action. Always working in that CPE model of learning. In fact, you have to stop yourself from doing it. At home, in the congregation, in conversation with people who know nothing about this model of learning. Stop being shaped the education and be. Still, it relates to how you see yourself.

You become a process person, loosening your grip on content and becoming more interested in what’s happening, what’s taking place, what process we’re in, rather than the superficial and low-hanging surface of what’s merely explicit. Process is hardly ever explicit. And fear is the same. You have to see it even though it’s facing you.

That’s why relationships falter because it takes a therapist or a spiritual director or a guide who’s outside the dyad to say, “Hey, what’s happening here?” or “This is what I’m seeing.” or “If you keep in this direction, where are you headed?” These aren’t content statements but process ones.

You begin to see your own fears. You make friends with some of them. You give grace to them, gifting them with new understanding because the words behind and under those fears are understandable. They are real just like the fear.